Alumni Voices: Beth Johnson
Can you describe your career trajectory?
One of the factors that drew me to Ball State was the minor program in Historic Preservation. From Ball State, I went directly to graduate school for historic preservation and then entered my career working for the City of San Antonio in the neighborhood planning section focusing my work on long range planning and neighborhood conservation districts. From San Antonio, I moved to Covington, Kentucky, to be their Preservation and Planning specialist running their local historic preservation program and also working on short term and long-range planning initiatives. After seven years with Covington, I moved to Austin to become the Deputy Historic Preservation Officer for the city but was drawn back to the Cincinnati region just a year later to become the Urban Conservator for Cincinnati running the location preservation office for the City.
What does your current job entail?
As the Urban Conservator for the City of Cincinnati, I am housed in the Cincinnati Planning and Engagement Department and work closely with the Department of Buildings and Inspections. My job includes the following
- Provides professional guidance and recommendations to the Historic Conservation Board and City Planning Commission
- Initiates, develops executes and administers policies and plans of action that establish historic preservation objectives
- Prepares and supervises preparation of reports on historic designation, certificates of appropriateness, and other actions that affect Cincinnati's historic resources
- Prepares conservation studies and develops conservation guidelines
- Assures compliance of the City's programs with federal and state regulations mandating protection of historic resources
- Reviews and approves minor alterations to historic buildings
- Advises the Department of Buildings & Inspections and other City departments, such as Economic Development, and Neighborhood Services, on effects of projects on historic resources
- Updates the Cincinnati Historic Inventory
- Represents the City and Historic Conservation Board to federal, state and local agencies
- Initiates and directs public education and information programs
- Provides technical assistance to homeowners, developers and other interested parties
Please tell us about a favorite project and why it makes you proud.
A recent favorite project was the rehabilitation and “face-lift” of the oldest Jewish Cemetery east of the Allegheny mountains as part of the Jewish Bicentennial celebration. The project started with just a call from the Jewish Cemeteries of Greater Cincinnati wanting input and advice on the planned plaza and upgrades. Through our discussions and a site visit, I saw that there was a need for gravestone cleaning. My office had an AmeriCorps member (also a Ball State alumnus!) who had training and knowledge of gravestone cleaning, so we set up a few workshops and workdays to clean up the gravestones. Meanwhile I worked with the designers and contractors on the design and upgrades to the plaza and information signage. The rededication of the cemetery with a new plaza and signage was the beginning of the celebration of the Jewish Bicentennial.
What advice do you have for students who want a career similar to yours?
While at Ball State take advantage of the minor Historic Preservation. Most jobs in Historic Preservation will require a master’s degree, and the minor will give you a foot up in the knowledge when you enter a graduate program. Historic Preservation at a local/municipal level is rooted in planning and specifically zoning, so understanding planning law, traditional neighborhood and urban systems, walkability, and principals of economic development will be key tools needed at the local level.
Take a many hands-on preservation workshops as possible and you will need to understand how historic materials work and will need to know how and where to find the traditional tradesman in your city. Go to every hands-on event, networking event, lecture, and class possible. This is an industry based on relationships where job postings aren't the norm. Make yourself cards and follow-up with any communication.
Do you have a favorite Ball State or CAP memory to share?
My favorite memory was during my junior year, I attended my first Christian Community Development Conference with Professor Scott Truex and five other students in Pasadena, California. During the conference for the first time, I truly understood was grassroots equity-based community development meant. I remember sitting up in the balcony with the other students, and we were all awestruck at learning about racial reconciliation, economic development in economically challenged communities, and the numerous stories of grass roots activism helping to make sustainable change.
I still talk to most of the students who were on that trip, and it still to this day remains a life changing experience for us. While I still knew that Historic Preservation was the road I was meant to be on, this changed my trajectory to want to work at the local and community level in diverse urban communities.