There are times when the personal takes on global implications. Last week was one of those times.
It began when I discovered that a former National Trust colleague, Raina Regan, has begun a fascinating self-help project for preservationists. Here is Raina’s description of this work:
“One of my goals for 2019 was to be more intentional with my free time, which resulted in a rekindled love of reading. I was really drawn to self-help books, and according to my count, I’ve read two dozen of them in 2019. As I read each one, I considered how they would apply to me and my work in historic preservation. At some point, I decided I wanted to take what I’ve learned and share it more broadly with the world—and Uplifting Preservation was born.“
Uplifting Preservation is a once-a-month newsletter on the Tiny Letter platform where Raina shares her perspective on a specific book, such as Brené Brown’s Daring Greatly: How the Courage to Be Vulnerable Transforms the Way We Live, Love, Parent, and Lead, and its relevant concepts to historic preservation. In her November newsletter, Raina looks at the public vilification of preservation professionals by a number of groups, including the media.
Those of us in the field believe strongly in the value of our work, yet the shaming can have a toll on one’s mental health. Raina looks at the effect of shaming on the profession, and suggests ways to combat it through the insights gained by reading the works of Brené Brown.
With more than 40 years in the preservation field, I’ve seen the type of vilification that Raina describes in an up-close and personal way. Even well-meaning friends think they are being funny by describing what I do as working for the “hysterical” society.
Yep, never heard that one before.
This came home to me again when I was having a recent conversation with the developer of Downtown Silver Spring. He thought it was okay to denigrate the historic preservation professionals in Montgomery County, who were keeping him from transforming our older buildings into the garish rumpus room-look he envisions for the rest of his downtown development. (That description is, admittedly, my take. He would have a different perspective.)
Downtown is something of the living room for our community, and, as an area with a history, it contains excellent historic buildings like the 1930s Art Deco-style AFI Silver Theatre and one of the country’s earliest shopping plazas with a street-facing parking lot. Nearby Woodside Park is the area’s first automobile-oriented suburb and is considered one of the region’s best examples of 1920s-30s residential development. The theatre and shopping plaza are protected by the county preservation ordinance, and all bring both good design and beauty to our community, in addition to generations of personal stories from those who live here. Those protected structures won’t change, thank goodness, and will instead remain authentic and unique to Silver Spring.
At the global level, I was reminded of the value of what preservationists do amidst the fragility of cultural resources when our president threatened to target centuries-old cultural resources for destruction in Iran. Preservationists and conservationists across the globe stepped up to call this out for what it was—a war crime—and to note that attacks against the cultural heritage of one country are attacks against culture and humanity worldwide. Thankfully, in spite of calls by some Trump supporters to follow-through on the president’s warning, the wider immediate backlash seemed to have put a pause on those plans. But the threat remains real, and our work remains vital.
While I think I’ve become immune to the denigration of preservation by the media, public officials, and some in related professions, Raina’s new project reminded me of how much it can still sting to hear your life’s work disparaged, often simply because you are asking the community (or the world) to think about how the past connects to the present and future in ways that can be uplifting and inspiring.
Thanks for the good work Raina! I didn’t realize how much I would appreciate this project until you conceived of it.
Have a good week.
More to come…