Last evening I spoke in Athens, Georgia, on the occasion of the 50th anniversary of the Athens-Clarke Heritage Foundation. The topic was the future of preservation, and I took segments from remarks given by my colleague Tom Mayes at the recent EDRA conference on Why Old Places Matter and combined it with the basic elements of our recently released Preservation for People: A Vision for the Future.
The first key concept from the vision is that a people-centered preservation movement hears, understands, and honors the full diversity of the ever-evolving American story.
I built on this concept by noting that,
“The recognition of our stories and the capacity to see yourself and others in the American narrative has a profound effect on our sense of identity. A few years when the National Trust conference was held in Nashville, Congressman John Lewis challenged us to believe in the idea that ‘my house is your house. My story is your story. The history of my people is the history of all Americans not just African Americans.’”
I followed that with a quote from The Well-Tempered City, by Jonathan Rose, the visionary developer, urbanist, and former NTHP trustee. In that work he notes that cities emerge from the interdependence of related parts. He says, “compassion is essential for a city to have a healthy balance between individual and collective well-being.”
It is my belief that hearing, understanding, and honoring the full diversity of America’s story helps provide “the connective tissue between the me and the we, and leads us to care for something larger than ourselves.”
After my remarks, a member of the Foundation’s board came to speak with me. Linda Davis is a civic and business leader in Athens, a member of the local school board, and African American. She told me that the vision is right in line with what she has been supporting in Athens in her five years on the ACHF board. She said, “I am not invisible” and this future is “exactly what I hope for preservation.” Her comment was straightforward, yet poignant.
Americans have conveniently forgotten most of the people whose lives are part of our layered history. At this time of deep division in our national life, I believe—more than ever—that we each have to do whatever we can to hear, understand, and honor the stories of those who might have been forgotten in the past. We have to make sure they are not invisible.
Have a good week.
More to come…