I Am Not Invisible

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.’”

The Well-Tempered City

The Well-Tempered City by Jonathan F.P. Rose

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…


The Well-Tempered City

The Well-Tempered City

The Well-Tempered City by Jonathan F.P. Rose

Jonathan F.P. Rose is a man of many interests and talents.  A developer, Rose builds affordable housing and mixed-income community centers.  He is a jazz aficionado and – as suggested by the title of his newest book – a classical music devotee.  Rose is also an interdisciplinary scholar and writer.  In The Well-Tempered City:  What Modern Science, Ancient Civilizations, and Human Nature Teach Us About the Future of Urban Life, Rose brings those talents and interests together in a wide-ranging and thoughtful look at the past – and future – of the places where 80% of the world’s population will live by 2080.

(Full disclosure:  My employer – the National Trust for Historic Preservation – has recognized Jonathan’s work with a Preservation Honor Award, and I have worked with him through his role as an advisor to a couple of our projects.)

The Well-Tempered City is a book that reflects a lifetime of work and thought about how cities best serve people.  Early in the book, Rose notes that,

“Since the founding of the very first cities, governance and culture have been use to balance ‘me’ and ‘we.’  Governance provides the protection, structure, regulations, roles, and responsibilities necessary to allocate resources and maintain coherence among a large and often diverse population.  Culture provides society with an operating system informed by the collective memory of its most effective strategies, guided by a morality that speaks for the whole.  Healthy cities must have both strong, adaptable governance and a culture of collective responsibility and compassion.”

Balance and systems are a key to Rose’s view of cities.  As a framework, Rose calls upon Johann Sebastian Bach’s The Well-Tempered Clavier, a groundbreaking work that sought to prove a new system of music which – as Rose explains – “demonstrates both the perfection of the whole and the role of the individual within it.”  In urban areas, Rose’s goal  seeks to knit the threads of “technical and social potential and the generative power of nature back together, toward a higher purpose for cities.”

There are five qualities that – in Rose’s view – make up the well-tempered city:  coherence, circularity, resilience, community, and compassion.  He moves through these five qualities in detail, calling on many different disciplines and experiences to weave together his call for cities that balance prosperity with equity and efficiency.

There is much to absorb and like in this work, and I highly recommend it.  There are also a couple of times when I wanted to question the assumptions.  In Rose’s segments on the environment and resilience, he barely mentions reuse of older buildings and promotes – somewhat inadvertently – the “we can build our way to sustainability” argument.  In fact, while he speaks extensively about the need for beauty in our cities, the role of the existing built environment in providing that beauty is rarely raised.  Finally, this work has a strong bias towards New Urbanism, where I take a grain of salt approach to some tenants of New Urbanist thought.

But those are quibbles in what is a fine addition to the bookshelf on the current state and future of urbanism.  Near the end of this work, Rose writes,

“Technology has produced cities that would have been unimaginable in Bach’s time, advancing in waves from the tower of Jericho to the megacities of today. But the essence of humans and nature has not changed.  We still feel a great sense of peace and joy when our minds are bounded by the synchrony of music, beauty, truth, dignity, love, and compassion.  Our cities today contain many of the technical achievements that Frederick the Great would have been so pleased by, but little of the harmony that Bach and the original makers of cities sought.

The purpose of our cities must be to integrate the science sought by the Enlightenment with the harmony of Bach, to compose the conditions of fitness of their people, their neighborhoods, and nature.”

Enjoy a bit of The Well-Tempered Clavier as you contemplate the Well-Tempered City.

More to come…