It is September here in German Village, time to put the gardens to bed, swap out the screens for storms, clean those gutters and complete any exterior maintenance projects prior to the weather coming in. Hopefully, you received your COA in time!
German Village has been designated since 1960, making it one of the oldest recognized districts in the country. We offer our gratitude to those early Columbus visionaries for not only recognizing the value of this place but taking constructive action to preserve it.
You might find yourselves asking why they took such action. What would prompt someone to look at a wide swath of the old south end, weed-strewn, windows gaping, bricks crumbling and say to themselves: I am going to save this! The answer is more than likely not as straightforward as one would think.
Today, we in the field of Historic Preservation grapple with the motivations, relevance, and impact of our activities on a daily basis. While we are convinced of the importance of our activities, others may view and measure the value of preservation from within a very narrow lens such a purely economic, purely nostalgic, etc. Such narrow interests and motivations can present barriers to our activities.
Our task as advocates is to communicate the whys and how’s of our activities broadly and in ways that bring understanding, and ultimately support for our actions from stakeholders with very specific areas of concern. There is a new book out this month that helps us think through these motivations and understand more intimately why some are so very passionate about preserving elements of our past as expressed through architecture and why it is so important, why places such as German Village should matter to us.
Why Old Places Matter: How Historic Places Affect Our Identity and Well-Being (American Association for State and Local History) by Tom Mayes, deputy general counsel at the National Trust for Historic Preservation, was published this month. Below are just some of the observations Mayes shares with us:
“In a world that is constantly changing, old places provide people with a sense of being part of a continuum that is necessary for them to be psychologically and emotionally healthy.”
“Old places help us remember. Old places… trigger memories people already have, give specificity to memories, and arouse curiosity about memories people don’t yet know.”
“…[O]ld places…serve as reference points for measuring, refreshing, and recalibrating our identity over time. They are literally the landmarks of our identity.”
Civic, State, National, and Universal Identity
“Americans argue vociferously about what our country is, who it is for, and what it means. These debates help reshape and re-form and—hopefully—deepen our understanding of history and identity. The old places that embody our identity are the perfect venues for those discussions and debates.”
“The history of preservation demonstrates a remarkable march of the ugly transforming into the beautiful.”
“What is it about old places that give them this unique capacity to ‘convey, embody, or stimulate a relation or reaction’ to history? … [P]eople feel the excitement of experiencing the place where something actually happened, from the shimmering watery fortress of Fort Sumter where the Civil War started, to the quiet rooms of Emily Dickinson’s home in Amherst, Massachusetts.”
“These special places, these works of architecture, are works of art. Like painting, music or literature, these buildings help us understand our capacities as humans.”
“…old places that are considered sacred are treasured by the religious and the non-religious. Why? Because these old places provide people with ‘restorative benefits that foster meditation and reflection and … a sense of peace or serenity,’ and with all the other benefits that old places provide—continuity, memory, identity, and beauty—that are psychologically and sociologically beneficial.”
“Just as people once traveled on pilgrimages to visit the relics of saints, they now go to visit the places where creative people worked, dreamt and struggled. From Mark Twain’s house in Hartford, Donald Judd’s loft building in Manhattan, Jackson Pollock’s house on Long Island, to William Faulkner’s Rowan Oak, these places attract people who want to connect with the creative power of art and artists.”
“Without exactly paying attention to it, we also absorb information about people and how they lived—what they ate, how they worked, how they made money, how they lost money, how they coupled, raised their families, and lived and died. And in learning about others from the past, we learn about ourselves.”
“In trying to envision a world that is more environmentally sustainable, I hope for a world where we are more appreciative of the communities, buildings and things that already exist, and that we continue to use them, so that we’re not constantly tearing buildings down and throwing things away.”
“Old places connect us to our ancestors and our ancestors connect us to old places, giving us a sense of belonging and identity.”
“Old places foster community by giving people a sense of shared identity through landmarks, history, memory, and stories, by having the attributes that foster community, such as distinctive character and walkability, and by serving as shared places where people meet and gather.”
“Old places support a sound, sustainable and vibrant economy that also fulfills deeper human needs of continuity, identity, belonging, and beauty.”
Why Old Places Matter: How Historic Places Affect Our Identity and Well-Being (American Association for State and Local History) was published by Rowman and Littlefield September 1, 2018.
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