Housing Complex

Catherine Buell on Keeping Preservation Cool

(Darrow Montgomery)

(Darrow Montgomery)

New Historic Preservation Review Board chairwoman Catherine Buell–whom I profiled a back in June–spoke with the D.C. Preservation League recently about where she sees preservation going and how the two entities can work better together. She had quite a bit to say about the image problem preservationists face, and how they should reach out to more "natural allies" in low-income areas (like those where she lives, in Historic Anacostia). Here's an exerpt:

Each of the easily identifiable historic districts there were has been nominated. We preservationists are faced with demonstrating our relevancy. Newcomers to historic neighborhoods question what they see as restrictive laws governing the exterior of their homes and businesses. We, all of us....HPRB, HPO, DCPL, the Historic Districts Coalition...have to do a better job of selling historic preservation to an increasingly skeptical general public. How we do that requires preservationists to have a whole new set of skills and alliances. We must learn to deploy our human capital more strategically. ...

Finally, I believe that historic preservation is moving away from its positions of staunch protectionism to a more nuanced stand that looks at cultural preservation. Cultural preservation can be viewed as a preservation approach that includes not only the buildings, but landscaping, archaeology, and other aspects of neighborhoods that are important to its residents. And preservation must take this cultural preservation ethos into low-income neighborhoods and look for the natural allies that reside there. The question I keep asking myself, and others, is...'how do we keep preservation relevant and cool.'

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