Reflections

Preservation Resolutions, Part Deux: Your Turn to Talk

Posted on: January 25th, 2012 by Priya Chhaya 1 Comment

 

A few weeks ago I let slip my preservation resolutions for 2012. It was a great list (if I do say so myself), a challenging list, and well, one that isn't really all that measurable or specific. But it's out there. I figure the more people know about it the more I'll march to success.

Now it's your turn. Earlier this month Stephanie Meeks, president of the National Trust for Historic Preservation, sent out a message to members asking them to share their preservation resolutions. And you delivered.


Just a few of your specific resolutions... (Image: National Trust for Historic Preservation)

Since there were so many I decided to pull out four common themes. These themes reflect the commitment of the preservation community to work to save historic places - not only in a professional capacity also as a passion in your personal lives.

So here goes. In 2012, you vow to...

  • Take direct action: Many of you wrote that you are looking to take direct action to save a place or building that matters to you. Sometimes it is a 1920s craftsman bungalow, or a historic barn, a school, or a historic ship. Others wish to advocate for the cause based on their love of architecture or the role preservation plays in job creation and sustainability.
  • Participate in preservation in a hands-on way: This year you vow to refurbish floorboards, rehabilitate your wood windows, do a structural assessment on a 1850's barn, save a one-room school house. You vow to dig in and go to ground, reaching out to touch the tactile, the grooves of the past in the places and spaces of days long gone (but not forgotten) - spaces waiting to add many more years to their story.
  • Remember the War of 1812, 200 years later:  This is the resolution that I love. Before ending up embracing the history of early America I found myself fascinated by the reign of Napoleon. From his rise, to the tale of British impressment of Americans on the high seas, I was sucked in to what some call the second American Revolution. Many of you look to this commemoration as a way to identify and embrace history in your backyard.
  • Entering the preservation field fully as a professional:  Many of you are students and everyday learners. This is your year to look at the field more broadly, to write theses, intern, and persist in looking for a job in a field that you love. More importantly, many of you vow to keep on learning, interpreting, and advancing preservation in the world around you. Each and every one of you expressed the desire to learn more about preservation, from the “ABC's” to understanding the latest research in infill design and geo-thermal energy production in historic districts.

Above all else, each one of you exhibited a determination and recognition of your role in sustaining the preservation ethic.  You look at preservation and embrace its ability to make life better in a real, tangible, economic way, and through its impact on the human condition.  I can’t wait to hear all about it.

Have something to add? Sound off below!

The National Trust for Historic Preservation works to save America's historic places. Join us today to help protect the places that matter to you.

Priya Chhaya

Priya Chhaya

Priya Chhaya is Associate Manager for Online Content, Preservation Resources at the National Trust for Historic Preservation. A public historian at heart, she sees history wherever she goes and believes that it is an important part of the American identity.

Preservation in Place: This is the House that Jack Built

Posted on: January 11th, 2012 by Priya Chhaya 2 Comments

 

I woke up this morning with this poem in my head. I haven’t thought about it years, and am not entirely sure what prompted my mind to dredge it up from my childhood. But, as always, Mother Goose has a lesson in mind.

This is the house that Jack built...

This is the farmer sowing his corn,
That kept the cock that crowed in the morn,
That waked the priest all shaven and shorn,
That married the man all tattered and torn,
That kissed the maiden all forlorn,
That milked the cow with the crumpled horn,
That tossed the dog,
That worried the cat,
That killed the rat,
That ate the malt,
That lay in the house that Jack built.

The poem starts with a single idea: this is the house that Jack built. A rational expectation is that we’ll learn about Jack’s home - the timbers, the frame, the windows. Instead we are treated to a narrative of how the house is interlinked with individuals and events outside of the four walls.


This Is the House That Jack Built - illustrated book cover from 1878.

Those of us that love history know that preservation is about the broader context, both historically speaking but also in terms of present impact. How can preserving one building be an economic and worthwhile benefit to its neighborhood, town, city, state, and so on? Turns out there's a ripple effect. Like in the poem, each building has a ripple effect, encouraging growth, diversity, and investment.

The poem is simple, but somehow articulating this message to non-preservationists (or those who aren't sure where they stand) is often the greater challenge.

Over the holiday I had a conversation with an acquaintance about my job and why I love writing about history and the past. I was asked the inevitable question: what does any of this have to do with today? So I talked to him about neighborhood initiatives, local entrepreneurship, and community character, and wasn’t at all surprised when he said that he never thought of preservation from that angle.

It is not that the history “within these walls” is not important. It is not that significance and meaning don't play a key role in why we preserve. Rather, these are just the jumping off point to having these places continue to play an active and meaningful role in the community.

This is the man who trained in trade,
Who built the windows that were remade,
That brought the visitors to the block,
And the stores in which people could shop,
Creating a community strong as rock,
Beyond four walls that no one forgot,
Amidst the people whose lives it wrought,
This is the house that preservation built.

Is there a place in your community that had this ripple effect? Have you successfully changed minds about the importance and role that preservation can play in economic sustainability and neighborhood vitality?

The National Trust for Historic Preservation works to save America's historic places. Join us today to help protect the places that matter to you.

Priya Chhaya

Priya Chhaya

Priya Chhaya is Associate Manager for Online Content, Preservation Resources at the National Trust for Historic Preservation. A public historian at heart, she sees history wherever she goes and believes that it is an important part of the American identity.

Preservation Resolutions 2012 (Or, 2011 Bites the Dust)

Posted on: December 28th, 2011 by Priya Chhaya 1 Comment

 

(Photo: Flickr user Carbonated)

I know it's a bit cliché to wax poetic about the passage of time, but 2011 has been one of those years that swung from January to December in a blink of an eye. One moment I'm looking eagerly to all that lies ahead in 2011, the next we are four days away from ringing in 2012.

So let's take a look back. The year has been filled with many changes, both personally and professionally. Through Buffalo Unscripted we've learned about how one city embraces preservation in its daily life, and we've seen preservation victories across the country with two in my home state of Virginia: Wilderness Battlefield and Fort Monroe.

It's also been another year where I've had the privilege to write here on the PreservationNation blog about subjects that I’m passionate about. My favorite post of the year? It's a toss-up between one I wrote a few weeks back about the materiality of preservation and a look at how preservation was portrayed on the sitcom How I Met Your Mother.

After looking back at my resolution post from last year, I realized that I accomplished all three, though not in the way I envisioned when I wrote them.

  • Attend an off-the-beaten track exhibition every month. Sure, it wasn’t every month, but I did succeed in seeing a few inspirational displays of culture and history. These included seeing a poetry slam inspired by historical art, a month long culture fest on India at the Kennedy Center in DC, impressive architectural displays of Buffalo, NY and wandering around Staunton, VA's main street on my birthday.
  • “Get my hands dirty” with an on the ground preservation project. Once again I did this in my own fashion. As an attendee of Preservation Leadership Training in Virginia I was able to catch a glimpse of what one of these projects look like as we worked in teams to re-imagine Woodlawn Plantation for the 21st century.
  • Continue to strive toward a sustainable lifestyle. A carryover from my 2009 resolution, I made some significant changes when I moved to a walkable neighborhood in August, while continuing to make my family and friends more conscious of the world in which they live.

So what about 2012?

Preservation is, at its root, a practice of the soul. Those of us who work or even just dabble in the practice believe in its ability to better lives in a real and visceral way. Preservation gives us pride in our community, our families, and our homes.

That’s why I see a year filled with opportunity - one where we take a hard look at our challenges and work to find new ways of making an impact, changing minds, and reaching out.

It is also a year of looking change straight in the eye, seeing where new roads can take us, and looking for the small acts where I can make a difference. Because, to quote/change/mangle a popular holiday movie - ”Preservation, actually is all around.”

So my 2012 Preservation Resolution is to not back down, to be inventive, to be engaged, and to look outside every box to find workable solutions in a challenging environment. For 2012 I vow to make connections and find tools that will allow preservationists to be all that they can be - to turn opportunity into something tangible.

And so, as the clock tick-tick-ticks away into 2012, it is now your turn: What are your preservation resolutions?

The National Trust for Historic Preservation works to save America's historic places. Join us today to help protect the places that matter to you.

Priya Chhaya

Priya Chhaya

Priya Chhaya is Associate Manager for Online Content, Preservation Resources at the National Trust for Historic Preservation. A public historian at heart, she sees history wherever she goes and believes that it is an important part of the American identity.

Living in a Walkable Neighborhood. Testify!

Posted on: December 7th, 2011 by Priya Chhaya 5 Comments

 

(Photo: Flickr user Cougar-Studio)

A few months ago I moved from a 17 to a 92. That isn’t the probability of my going to the gym every day, or the ratio of museum trips to preservation-related movies watched. It’s my neighborhood walk score.

It wasn’t an entirely unexpected change, or even an unconscious decision. After talking the talk for over five years, this was an opportunity for me to (no pun intended) walk the walk. Also unsurprising is that I love it.

While living further out from the city, I did try to be sustainable - I would drive my car to a commuter lot to travel via carpool (the slug line, if anyone is familiar with it), or drive to the Metro (Washington, DC’s subway system). If I could, I would make sure to time all my shopping and socializing in the same area, so that once I parked I limited my driving time. And as much as I could control it I shopped local, and attempted to eat local.

But this - this is different. For five days of the week everything I need is steps away from my new home. I take public transportation 95% of the time, exercise, and get my hair cut without having to get into my car. There are restaurants galore - including my favorite socially-conscious coffee shop - and a few (semi-affordable) independent retail stores owned and operated by small business owners. Not to mention a branch of the public library system. Moving from a 17 to a 92 has made my life, in some ways, less complicated.

Last week I reflected a little on the materiality (or immateriality, rather) of historic preservation. In the post, I cited four elements that connect the physicality of preservation to the more ephemeral, meaningful pieces of what we do: Place-History-Memories-Character.

These four characteristics played heavily in my choice to live in my new neighborhood:

Place: This is my first home away from the place where I grew up with my parents. It was a big step for me, and I knew that when choosing the neighborhood it had to reflect what I wanted to be, where I wanted to spend my time, and a sense of place that reflected some of what I believed in.

History: The direct neighborhood in which I live is not historic in the usual sense of the word - although a large portion of the retail/foodie area was built in 1944. However it does lie adjacent to a National Register district that was once a part of the DC boundaries, and then developed by Defense Homes Corporation during World War II.

Memories: Having lived in the region already, I came to my new neighborhood with a visceral connection to it. My friends and I gather for monthly book clubs at my coffee shop, and I’ve celebrated birthdays at many of the restaurants.

Character: I think, above all else, this area has character. When leaving my apartment building I can run in one direction to see the amazing World War II area housing that still remains, and I am often immersed in green space that lines the sidewalks. While my building is of the 1970s variety, I can look outside my window and see the cityscape of DC arrayed in lights (including the Washington Monument). That feature alone is inspiring.

Going from a 17 to a 92 doesn’t mean I don’t miss my old haunts, my childhood parks/playgrounds, and favorite local restaurants that I still visit when I’m in the area. But I can say that it’s made me an even bigger proponent as a historic preservationist to protecting places that just like this for the future.

The National Trust for Historic Preservation works to save America's historic places. Join us today to help protect the places that matter to you.

Priya Chhaya

Priya Chhaya

Priya Chhaya is Associate Manager for Online Content, Preservation Resources at the National Trust for Historic Preservation. A public historian at heart, she sees history wherever she goes and believes that it is an important part of the American identity.

A Reflection on the Materiality of Preservation

Posted on: November 30th, 2011 by Priya Chhaya 2 Comments

 

The bustle of Union Station in DC. (Photo: Flickr user jenpilot)

I once wrote a paper about a pressure cooker for a course on foodways. It was a plum assignment—find an object in your kitchen over the Thanksgiving holidays and write about it. Look at it in a way that you’ve never looked before: as a piece of culture, a mirror into the way we cook, the way we eat, and the role that object played in the history of your home, your community, America, and the world (yes, the world!)

So I went home, picked the one appliance we used the most—and told its story. The narrative didn’t begin with its physical description (stainless steel, about 10 inches in diameter) or with an origin story (Denis Papin, inventor) rather it began with a memory of my mother cooking an entire Indian meal in 30 minutes flat.

I was thinking about this assignment this past weekend when I strolled through Union Station (Washington, DC) on my way back from my Thanksgiving break, watching as shoppers milled through the stores, and travelers sprinted to their trains. I found myself struck with the materiality of it all.

What exactly do I mean by materiality? I mean that much of what we try to preserve is based in the tactile, in the physically present, something we can touch. Preservation is a pursuit to save the material culture of the past.

However, we also know the following: Preservation saves places. Preservation saves history. Preservation saves memories. Preservation saves character.

Through this lens we admit to ourselves that preservation is not just about the stuff. The materiality of preservation is very much rooted in these places and objects ability to tell a story - to evoke the intangible in such a way that makes it more certain, more reliable, more real. Place-History-Memories-Character, are all names that describe either something so big it isn’t easily defined without examples (place, history), or an intangible detail that evokes feelings and emotions on a human level (memory, character).

Recognizing that distinction is key when trying to preserve. It isn’t the building, landscape, or the neighborhood that is going to garner support alone, rather it is those intangible elements, the memories, the character, the history that will pull in the unexpected advocates. For me it was the visual of my mother, cooking dinner during that half hour that made the pressure cooker real - just as our stories will make this piece of material culture a continuing part in the history of your home, your community, America, and perhaps…the world.

The National Trust for Historic Preservation works to save America's historic places. Join us today to help protect the places that matter to you.

Priya Chhaya

Priya Chhaya

Priya Chhaya is Associate Manager for Online Content, Preservation Resources at the National Trust for Historic Preservation. A public historian at heart, she sees history wherever she goes and believes that it is an important part of the American identity.