Giving Preservation a History: Histories of Historic Preservation in the United States

By Max Page; Randall Mason | Go to book overview

MOVING FORWARD

Futures for a Preservation Movement

Ned Kaufman

PRESERVATION PROFESSION PICKS PRUDENCE OVER PASSION. Or SO one might summarize Antoinette Lee's account of preservation's last forty years. 1 Once upon a time, historic preservation was a passionate protest. Now it's a prudent profession. The question is: Could this careful, practical, well-organized profession of historic preservation once again give rise to a movement-a passionate effort to change, in profound ways, how society imagines, preserves, and inhabits its heritage?

To ask this is not to indict the preservation profession. On the contrary, hundreds of landmarks commissions, of state and federal and local laws, of government offices to implement them, of cultural resource studies and of consultants to carry them out-all these are signs of health, not sickness. It is good that preservation is buttressed by laws and procedures and implemented by well-trained professionals.

And there is more to celebrate. Because of the preservation movement, we have an active network of citizen groups that know how to mobilize and are prepared to do so. Even more valuable, we have a language in which to oppose the destruction of place and heritage.

Still, it is hard to avoid the conclusion that we are losing ground. Listen to Ronald F. Lee, a senior official of the National Park Service, addressing a conference of planners in 1964, just before passage of the New York City Landmarks Law and the National Historic Preservation Act. Calling for a "major new effort to preserve our 'total environment,'" Lee draws on some of the most eloquent voices of his time, describing the condition of the American environment as a "quiet crisis" (Secretary of the Interior Udall), "God's Own Junkyard" (Peter Blake), "the most affluent slum on earth" (network news anchor Eric Sevareid), and "Silent Spring" (Rachel Carson). 2 One could hardly

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