A Field of Saying No?

Lately, one of the buzz conversations among many in the preservation field includes the idea that historic preservation is too often in the practice of saying no to something, rather than saying yes. This conversation was discussed at the National Trust Conference and in many related blog posts after the fact. One particular blog post is from Time Tells by Vince Michael; a quote he referenced stuck with me and I’ve been wanting to talk about it.

While I am taking this quote out of context here, I think the idea is still important to discuss. If you are interested, read the post for the entire context.

“Y’all won. Most people accept the conservation of important buildings and districts as a community and civic value. Why do we continue to act like victims? Why are we still defensive?”

When I read that quote, I was insulted. I have never felt that I am in such a position. As a preservationist, do you really feel like you are always saying no? Do you think our standard operation procedures are negative and defensive? While there are laws to “say no” for us, which regulators are charged with enforcing, that doesn’t mean preservation means no and it doesn’t mean that laws are only for prevention. It seems like a backwards way of thinking, if you ask me.

Preservation is about compromise, suggestions, guidance and working with other fields in order to protect and channel our best and most valuable resources. Sure, the battles are highlighted in the media. But, what about the accomplishments and the rest of what the field represents? Economic development, successful planning, neighborhood revitalization, cultural appreciation – all of this has nothing to do with saying no. Preservation is about creative solutions and thinking, just like everything else. Every field, academic and professional, from banking to environmentalism to architecture has ethics, standards and laws that govern how it operates.  At some point, everyone will say no, but that is not mean that’s the purpose of the profession.

Of course, every field, just like every person, can benefit from periods of reevaluation and thoughtful improvements. However, I will say, if you are thinking that historic preservation is a bunch of people saying no – even in the 21st century – then you are thinking about preservation in the wrong way.

What do you think, readers? Is this an issue of semantics? Do you see preservation as a field of victims and saying no?