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I’d like to give thanks, and you should too

November 27, 2014

Preservation (or conservation, or celebration of built heritage, or whatever you want to call it) is often such a long, quiet process that we fail to fully recognize or appreciate our successes.  It is one thing to breathe a sigh of relief when the 250 year old Georgian mansion is saved from the wrecking ball.  Thank our lucky stars and all those picket signs, well, yes, sure.

But let’s remember to give thanks to the little cogs in the wheel that keep things from getting to those dire straits.

Lets give thanks to those who maintain their old houses and donate cash or time to historic sites and societies they care about and believe in.

Thanks to the contractors who know what they are doing and help wonderful old buildings survive another few decades.  (And thanks to the legislators who advocate for tax credits that help property owners pay those contractors for repairs and renovations.)

Thanks to the historical society folks who doggedly pursue a their mission to preserve one-of-a-kind historical materials and especially to those making an effort to digitize collections and make them available via the internet where the information can be accessed and appreciated by a wider audience of all ages.  

Thanks to volunteers everywhere who give of their time and knowledge to file, photograph, educate and assist in handing our inheritance along to the following generations.

I give thanks to those who have seen a neighborhood literally falling apart and took the long view, one-step-at-a-time toward putting things back together again.

Thanks to those who have the vision and energy to pursue long-term goals — no matter how overwhelming the odds.  We seem to live in a short-term world; a real challenge to preservationists whose prime objective is all about the concept of “long term.”  

Dana Discovery Center

Charles A. Dana Discovery Center on the edge of Central Park's Harlem Meer, photo taken November 2003

I’ve had the pleasure of watching one of these visions unfold over decades, having volunteered with the Central Park Conservancy for several years beginning shortly after its inception 25 years ago.

Above is the Harlem Meer in the northern end of Central Park as it appeared about five years ago.  Just beyond that playground fence is 110th Street.  To the right is the Charles A. Dana Discovery Center, a beautiful “Victorian Gothic” information center and host to numerous events (workshops for children, environmental education, fishing, music, exhibits) that draw people to the glories of the “wilderness” of the north end of the park.

I knew this part of the park during the Days of Desolation.  A heavy concrete edge, sludge, grafitti and weeds.  I can tell you that the physical condition echoed the dispirited feeling of the neighbors who would walk by as we worked and ask us why we bothered.  We’d chirp about how it was going to make the park a better, safer, more inspiring place.  We were Believers.  Some of them thought we were crazy and wasting our time.  Others found optimism and became believers too.

Me with Alan and Greg at the Gill, L.I.V.E. volunteers, circa 1983, (L.I.V.E. stood for "Learning & Involvement for Volunteers in the Environment"; these days the program goes by the much simpler Green Team), photo by Jennifer C Newman

I give thanks to Betsy Barlow Rogers and others like her around the world who can see a future of promise and endeavor to make it so.  

Thanks to the creative spirits who work hard to excite young imaginations with history and who strive to find new means of expressing old stories.

I am thankful for the amazing array of architectural expression found around the world and the way it makes my soul soar.

Oh, and thanks to you, dear reader, for visiting the Time Machine.  I hope you’ll pause a moment and then leave a comment to share what you are thankful for this year.

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