As people we often define ourselves within communities, often multiple communities. It does not have to be a geographic community; perhaps it’s a community by profession, by lifestyle, by activity, by genealogy, or by interests. Whatever it is, we all fit into at least one community. So it makes sense that community is a very critical aspect of historic preservation.
Historic preservation is a field and an umbrella term for many sub-fields including architectural history, planning, museum studies, archaeology, and oral history. Collectively historic preservation seeks to improve the quality of life by involving the heritage of a community with its present and future. It involves the idea that having roots in a place or at least understanding how that place evolved is what makes it important to people. How can we move forward if we do not know from where we’ve come?
Consider this: in the historic preservation world we are inevitably working for a community. Without a community, our projects would not hold value or worth because generally our work responds to a community’s needs and wants. Within a community we might be addressing how future development will impact the historic integrity of a site. The rehabilitation of a city block might inspire a chain reaction of commerce and positive development of other city blocks, bringing life back to the center. Museums, cultural events, activities, and parks can show people the beauty and value of where they live. Local businesses on Main Street keep money in the community, provide quality jobs, and keep a community unique.
Too much of America is becoming Anywhere, USA. Historic preservation is not looking to stop progress; but, rather, to encourage people to remember the characteristics that make each place unique and valuable. Theories of historic preservation often relate to a sense of place (also referred to as sense of community and pride of place).
My basic philosophy on sense of place is that if people value where they live then they will likely care for its past, present, and future. And when people take pride in their hometown, their region, etc. then quality of life improves. Yet, while the philosophies can be applied from place to place, each community will have a different definition of history and different way to express their pride. In other words, good quality of life and sense of place do not result from Disney-fication and gentrification. It results from people caring about that place and realizing that all aspects of life are connected: work, home, resources, transportation, commerce, culture, health, etc.
Previous Preservation in Pink posts related to community: