By Kate Scott
This spring I had the opportunity to attend several meetings aimed at improving preservation across Minnesota. Our state historic preservation office (SHPO) was reviewing their comprehensive plan, tracking progress, and creating new goals. In an effort to make the preservation plan truly applicable to all Minnesotans, the SHPO traveled throughout the state to gather resident input. From citizens in different regions, with varying background and interests, I was surprised to hear one common concern resounding statewide.
Minnesotans find it difficult to achieve cooperative, successful historic preservation in our state. They feel this is so because a strong preservation ethic does not exist. As preservationists we often see this; it is hard to get people on board with preservation. Much of our time is spend touting the many merits of preservation: it’s an economic development tool, a sustainable building practice, a way to create a sense of place and community. Typically I think people don’t get preservation because we live in a tear-down society, because in our vernacular old means obsolete. And while this may be true, the people of Minnesota see another reason for the absence of a preservation ethic.
We lack a strong preservation ethic, they say, because local history is not being taught in our schools. And without an appreciation for history, we cannot expect a desire to preserve our historic sites.
In Minnesota, where our SHPO is housed in the same offices as the state historical society (which is true of many states including Iowa, Wisconsin, Montana, and Colorado), this apparent disconnect between history and historic preservation is unexpected.
What can we do as preservationists to close this gap? Building relationships with state and local historical societies is one way. Another possibility is for statewide preservation groups to include educational development programs in their mission. In the present day of strict spending we can make the most of free and low-cost e-tools to distribute puzzles, games, and other kid-friendly history information. If we can get children interested and engaged in their local history, they will likely form attachments to significant sites and become the grass-roots activists that preservation relies on.
One of the biggest hurdles we face as preservationists is that much of our work is responsive. We react when important sites are threatened by development, neglect, and demolition. To be proactive on educational preservation programs for children could make our job much easier. Think of it as building an army for preservation (I’m not a fan of the militant analogy, but it fits). How great would it be if for every developer, every city official, every neighbor, preservation was the first choice?
It might sound like a long shot, but if we teach local history and historic preservation early we can get there. Just think – to be a preservationist and be in the majority!