If the Eskimos have many words for “snow”…
…why are we stuck with this one phrase “historic preservation” with all its negative connotations — say the words and raise the hackles of property rights proponents who resent regulation of any kind, minorities who question the costs and rewards, developers who find it obstructionist and burdensome, elite rich who will accuse preservationists of being elitist in heated battles over demolition of some grand old irreplaceable pile, and even some in the field with concerns that “preservation” amounts to creation of an artificial Disney-like experience of time and place.
Vince Michael, at his insightful blog Time Tells, has written a thought-provoking post inspired by preservation economist Donovan Rypkema’s talk at the recent National Trust for Historic Preservation Conference. Rypkema called for preservationists to reestablish the relationship between why something is important, how we preserve it, and how we define “preservation.”
Michael proposes the phrase “heritage conservation” as a more apt term. Preservation as it is needed in modern times is “not about fixing something in a certain period of time,” but “about managing change over time.”
To preserve means to fix at a point in time – in effect, to remove something from history. I began my preservation career nearly 27 years ago by helping create the first heritage area, and our goal then, and now, was managing change, not stopping change. Heritage conservation is about managing change – planning – based on the inherited culture and cultural artifacts of a place. It is about the individuality and uniqueness of place. What we do is follow a process that insures that change happens in concert with a place’s values and valuables.
Do click on over and read the entire post.
I like the notion of “heritage conversation” as it speaks to that which we have “inherited” and what we choose to do with what’s been passed down over generations. As Michael notes, not every building is the architectural equivalent of a Rembrandt and as an individual object, does not perhaps merit awed reverence and costly “preservation.” But that modest building grouped with others becomes the setting for a story about ourselves and where we’ve come from.
I’ll just be here pondering questions about artificiality and authenticity, layers of culture and meaning, and the regulation of aesthetics and how that supports or smothers the growth of place and individuality.