The Young Preservationists & the Not-Young Preservationists?

The frequency of the term “young preservationists” has increased over the past few years. On one hand, it’s great. It means more people are getting involved in preservation at a younger age and making a difference. Typically “young preservationist” refers to (a) kids in grade school, or (b) college students, or (c) those who have recently graduated college and are working in the preservation field.

There are groups across the country who call themselves the “young preservationists.” Most major cities have such a group. Even Burlington, VT has one, which was recently started by current UVM graduate students. Who can join a “young preservationist” group? It depends. Some say under 40, some say “young at heart.” So what happens when you’re over 40? You get kicked out? You cannot be a part of that group anymore?

“Young preservationist” means that more experienced professionals are giving the newbies credit. The National Trust is giving more attention to college students (and younger) than ever before. As a student attending NTHP conferences in 2004 & 2005, I always felt as though the conference didn’t make enough of an effort to be inclusive of students. That has changed, thankfully. So this attention to “young preservationists” is a good thing.

On the other hand…does there have to be such a divide? Are we really groups of “young preservationists” and by default, “not-young preservationists”? Is yet another label and division necessary? (Before we go any further, let me clarify, that this is not a getting older crisis I’m having, nor fear of getting older. I’ll still fit in the “young” category for a long while.)

Reasons for a distinction, that I’ve heard, are usually along the lines of proving that preservationists are not blue-haired ladies in tennis shoes anymore trying to save another building. Preservation is so much more! And, I agree. Preservation IS so much more. But it’s the entire field that’s changing. And it’s not because of someone’s age. People from all ages can attend college, graduate school, join an advocacy group or take on a new preservation job. Perhaps there is some confusion. Does “young preservationist” mean young in age,  young at heart, or young by professional years?

Is there an alternative to “young” branding? Do we need to bring age into this at all? Why do we keep bringing up the blue haired ladies in tennis shoes? Can we just move on? Or do we preservationists actually have to keep fighting it? Perhaps it depends on where you live and work.

I’d love a discussion about this. No matter what your age, how do you feel about “young preservationists” and then the not-young preservationists?

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44 thoughts on “The Young Preservationists & the Not-Young Preservationists?

  1. Midwestern Plant Girl says:

    Admittedly, I’ve got an issue getting old. Ha! But, yes, if young is going to include all ages, maybe change young to fresh, new, novice, apprentice, incoming, upcoming… thesaurus in other room. … 😛

  2. Douglas Quigley says:

    I believe the term is being used (my opinion) because so many young people are interested in what is real, authentic, & not re-created. They grew up with McMansions & other architectural messterpieces that borrow features of history but have no soul. The young realize this in droves and are a driving new force for keeping the odd,quirky, gritty, majestic, and even the obsolete for a new purpose rather than erasing it from the landscape for more architectural drivel. Attendance at preservation hearings is increasing among young unjaded, & idealistic people who appreciate the roots of their aesthetic surroundings. It may even be a type of rebelion to hold onto these features in the face of corporate greed.

  3. Raina Regan says:

    I’ve considered the young preservationist movement as an opportunity for “new” (i.e. = young) preservationists to the field to build a supporting network. They may feel like they don’t have the experience or connections to the established or “old” preservation network and seek opportunities to get more involved. They form organizations to help legitimize their existence in an attempt to get a “seat at the table,” if it may be. This might be resolved if existing preservation groups reach out to young or “new” preservationists – give them opportunities to be involved, volunteer, or voice their input on subjects.

    • Kaitlin says:

      Raina, excellent point. It can be hard to feel like you have any say when you’re brand new in any field. So when would you say that people transition out of the “young” group? At different phases?

      • Raina Regan says:

        That’s a good question… one that I feel like I’m struggling with right now! I’m not sure when you transition. As someone who just started her second job in preservation, I don’t feel like I’m totally new to the field anymore, but I know I have a lot to learn (and people to meet, as well!).

  4. Rebecca says:

    As someone who is no longer totally new but also not part of the old guard, I have a lot of respect for those here before. There has been a gradual change in general attitude by the public that makes not every fight a losing battle. A lot of older generation was around when most battles to save a building were expected to be lost. You had to be a bit crazy and fight for even the buildings that weren’t really worth it. Now there is a better win rate in my experience and a lot of newer preservationists are trying to shed the crazy tag. They tend fight a smarter and more calculated battle backed up by a lot of the hard economic facts gained over the decades. The reliance on the emotional connection to make a case is less even though it is such an important reason for why we do this.

    • Kaitlin says:

      Hi Rebecca,

      Agreed. There is a difference between the current generation of preservation and the older generations. Would you identify that to the people of preservation or just the field itself? Perhaps the “young preservation” is actually the field itself?

  5. Carin says:

    THANK you for opening this discussion. As a well-over-40-year-old who is entering preservation as a second career, I’m constantly frustrated by the implication of “young preservationist” programs that only people entering the field fresh out of college are worthy of attention from the field at large. The perspective of people who have extensive professional experience in other fields is a valuable contribution to the preservation profession. I’m sure my colleagues in Goucher College’s MAHP program, which focuses on career-changers and accepts only students well out of college, would agree. We have mature and experienced city planners, academics, transportation department workers, craftspeople, artists, academics, genealogists, nurses, designers…all of whom are “young” in the field of preservation but some of whom are retirement-age. Career-changing is going to become more and more a feature of people’s long professional lives. It doesn’t make sense to think of entry into and progress through the preservation profession primarily in terms of age.

    • Kaitlin says:

      Hi Carin, Yes! That is exactly what I’m talking about. I do not like the division, even though I’m one of (relatively) few who studied historic preservation in undergrad. The division feels offensive to me. The problem is that we always associated “young” with age and inexperience. There are too many connotations to keep using “young” to mean “new-to-the-field.”

  6. Diana Tisue says:

    In Cincinnati, we started a group called the Cincinnati Preservation Collective, purposefully shying away from the term ‘young preservationists’ and electing to focus on the diversity of the preservationists in the city. Our group has members than range in age from 20 to 78, all account for dozens of professions. Our mission is to be proactive about saving buildings, and create a movement towards better preservation policy.

    • Kaitlin says:

      Diana, the “preservation collective” sounds great. I love the name, and the fact that there are all ages. Would you say that people intermingle in ages or stick to their own age groups?

    • Frank says:

      But, Diana, why start a new preservation organization in Cincinnati when there’s an established preservation & advocacy org in the Cincinnati Preservation Association? Wouldn’t joining forces with an established organization better advance everyone’s desire for effective advocacy and the preservation of Cincy’s landmarks?

  7. Kate Doak-Keszler says:

    I really dislike the “young professional” branding in all fields. Professional careers of all sorts are more fluid than they have been. Organizations working to integrate up and coming preservationists to the field need to be more sensitive to the varied ages, experiences and backgrounds of us newbies. I just want to throw out there that while in my undergrad program, I struggled being “young” because while I fit the age profile of a typical student in my program, I was already a full time working professional. Exemptions made for other working professionals were not offered to me, so the “young” label is really unhelpful from both sides of the equation. Maybe ICCROM gets it right with the “emerging professional” label?

  8. George Walter Born says:

    I’m glad we’re talking about this, too. I’ve been interested in preservation since I was a teen-ager, and I always enjoyed meeting the older people in the field. Nevertheless, when I first heard about a “Young Preservationist” group (in Pittsburgh at the NTHP conference in 2006), I was excited, since I was still in my 30s and it seemed to affirm something important: That more young people are interested in preservation than I might have thought. At the same time, there are limitations to this model: In a small community, there may not be enough preservationists to segregate by age. Also, are there not also benefits to intergenerational cross-fertilization? Now, by both age and experience, I no longer feel like a “young preservationist,” so I probably would not attend an event marketed to this demographic. But of course if others find it supportive and nurturing to belong to such a group, that is their choice.

    • Kaitlin says:

      George, you bring up an excellent point: there are not enough preservationists to segregate by age. (Though not that we should segregate.) As you might know, in Vermont we don’t have many people or an incredible number of preservationists because of the lack of population. So a Young Preservationists of Vermont would just be too hard to fill. All of us have to work together.

  9. Jen says:

    Interesting discussion. I do appreciate the desire to get more under-30s involved, but…isn’t a preservationist a preservationist? Why single out one group when this might alienate others also interested in preservation? And the earlier comment about singling out younger people at the expense of the “old guard” or anyone over the age of 35 or so is apt.

    • Kaitlin says:

      Yes, a preservationist is a preservationist. Age shouldn’t matter, but those seasoned professionals deserve respect for their work and what they’ve experienced and learned.

  10. Gwynn says:

    I agree with Carin’s comments and have been frustrated by this label in the past few years. I am in my 40s and graduated from SCAD 4 years ago. Doesn’t preservation have enough issues with “labeling” without throwing up age barriers? Personally I resent the implication that “young preservationists” are the only ones who are current with issues or have all the energy to get things done. That said, I do appreciate the attention they have added to the cause as well as their vision.

  11. Chad says:

    I do think “young” might be an appropriate appellation if it was started by students at a University. I know they use “young Republicans” and “young Democrats.”

  12. serious201 says:

    Honestly, I see the YP’ers in my area joining up to network (find jobs or better jobs) and socialize (find friends and dates). While this is not ‘pure’ preservation work, it’s not a bad thing at all. I was their age once and would have enjoyed meeting like-minded people in this setting. I also find them very open-minded and cooperative-minded, as opposed to trying to co-opt any local preservation momentum (or funding) for themselves.

    • Kaitlin says:

      Yes, YP groups are definitely good for networking and having a common ground. It’s not all bad. The semantics of it are in question, not the efforts.

  13. Jess G. says:

    I have to agree with Jen and Gwynn’s comments. A preservationist is a preservationist… to me, it feels weird to include a qualifier like “young”. The point of any Young Preservationist group is not to highlight the age of its members -it should be to highlight preservation issues- and I wish there was a better way to include younger people without putting it in the name. It can be alienating to those who don’t feel they fit the “criteria” and depending on the audience, it can sometimes undermine credibility. Preservation is something people of all ages can (and should!) get excited about regardless of age. Personally, I feel that it might be productive to come up with slightly more creative titles for new preservation groups that may or may not include college-age members.

  14. Kaitlin says:

    I am so excited to read all of your comments. These are wonderful. Thank you, and I look forward to continuing the discussion this week. Keep it up!!

  15. Jason D. Smith says:

    I have to say, there is no such thing as being young or being old, when it comes to preservation per se. It’s more about the experience and the passion that comes with preservation, and how a person got involved with preservation in the first place. Speaking from my experience as a teacher, columnist and a pontist (bridge enthusiast), I find that the more you educate the people about preservation topics, young and old, the more interest the people will have in preserving places of interest. There are enought examples to go around where the young and old have come together to experience what it is like to preserve something that is very dear to them. Granted there will be some differences as to how a place of interest should be preserved- make no mistake about it- but in the end, the preservationists have one goal: preserve something for the younger generation to see. And it doesn’t take an engineer or preservationist to do that. People who have saved places of interest have come from different fields of work outside preservation, like in my case as an English teacher and columnist. Either way, career and age do not play a role, just passion, experience and the willingness to do the work necessary to save an important place of interest.

    My two cents on this topic. I’ll forward this to my Bridgehunter’s Chronicles’ page to see what they think about this topic, as this one is a really interesting topic to talk about. 🙂

  16. Elle says:

    I think “young preservationists” is a label meant to attract those in or interested in the field that are of a certain age–usually under 35. Definitely a good thing we want more of and yes, sometimes different tactics might (or should) be used to appeal to them. The trick is to not let the labeling become divisive. I spent last year as an intern and I’m so not “young” age-wise. I’m loving what I’m doing. I’m changing careers and coming into this profession as new as anyone almost half my age, but it doesn’t make me any less enthusiastic or any less capable of coming up with new approaches/ideas. We want to encourage preservation. We want folks to get HYPED about it. The more the merrier.

  17. Paul Hohmann says:

    I’ve worked in preservation (mostly adaptive reuse architecture) for 15 years and have been involved in the preservation community here in St. Louis a few years longer and thankfully have never heard the term “young preservationist” here. While preservation battles here do tend to have many “young” people involved, there are people of all ages and everyone typically works together. In the past there was a significant separation of people on the front lines of preservation and the local preservation organization Landmarks Association, whose membership and meetings were filled with grey hair, but fortunately that has begun to change as well.

    • Kaitlin says:

      Hi Paul. Glad to hear that STL is filled with preservationists of all ages. I have a good friend who grew up near St. Louis, I’ll be sure to pass along your blog to her. I think she’ll love it.

  18. Andrew says:

    I am a graduate student from the University of Texas at Austin in the Historic Preservation (MSHP) program. A group of us are also part of the Texas chapter of APT. When creating a niche for ‘young people’ we moved in the direction of the term ‘students and emerging professionals,’ in effort to clarify these common concerns and ambiguities. It is definitely a relevant issue in preservation.

  19. catank says:

    This can all be solved with a dictionary. Goggle “young definition.” First definition and example: having lived or existed for only a short time; “a young girl.”

    A young girl is a girl who has lived or existed as a girl for only a short time. Therefore a young preservationist is a preservationist who has lived or existed as a preservationist for only a short time.

    Young, in this context, is not about how long you have lived as a human, it is about how long you have lived as a preservationist.

    Furthermore, if you don’t like “young preservationists” because it is exclusive or divisive, do you also dislike “black preservationists” or “LGBT preservationists” or “women preservationists?” I’m sure that all of these offend some people in one way or another. But I also know that none of these groups of people are exclusionary. They are all open to allies.

    Having special interest preservation groups is vital for the future of our movement. It is ALL about public perception. The best way to change the “blue-haired ladies in tennis shoes” stereotype is to create and advertise special interest groups that specifically cater to underrepresented demographics, like the young. -Clint Tankersley

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