Bending the Future of Preservation Review

By kraines

In celebration of the 50th anniversary of the National Historic Preservation Act, the New York Public Library hosted a discussion between 5 notable scholars working in the field of preservation. The event was called Bending the Future of Preservation and was held on October 19 at 5:30 PM at the Stephen A. Schwarzman Building. Panelists included Michael Sorkin, Robert Hammond, Thompson Mayes, Liz Sevcenko, and Richard Rabinowitz. The event was moderated by Max Page and Marla Miller.

Discussion lead with a look into the next 50 years of preservation, particularly in architecture. Questions posed to the group were intended to make the panelists/audience consider equity and representation in preservation. The first hour featured the voices of Hammon, Mayes, and Sorkin. Each panelist presented recent projects around NYC, their involvement, and the positives and negatives of city development. Hammond, as part of the High Line project, highlighted two main issues with the development of the park.The High Line is a linear park built on a disused New York railroad. The first issue addressed by Hammond is a distinct lack of city funding, 98% of the parks budget is supported by Friends of the High Line through private donations [1].

The second issue relates to access and use of the park. Hammond discussed two low-income housing units located beside the High Line. Residents in both buildings were surveyed before and after construction, and the discovery was made that most had never been to the High Line. Survey responders indicated that the space did not feel like it was built for them and felt uncomfortable walking the park. A visit reveals to the keen observer that the majority of park traversers primarily include tourists and residents from other, more affluent, living complexes. Hammond believes that creating public spaces and the preservation of NYC structures should benefit all residents of the city. New residents, parks, and business can greatly influence the residents of a neighborhood. As an area is redeveloped, the cost of rent often rises and forces people who cannot afford new costs from their homes. Mayes criticized decisions to preserve based on only historical and architectural values. He believes that the residents memory and identity adds to the value of a place. This is supported by all the panelist as they discuss the history of place in preservation.

The second hour echoed the thoughts of the first as Richard Rabinowitz and Liz Sevcenko addressed the preservation of historical sites. Rabinowitz, in particular, addressed the importance of telling all histories rather than those of the important or wealthy influencers. He called for marking historical sites that affected larger populations, such as bread lines from the Great Depression or putting the rules to old street games on plaques in neighborhoods. He referred to this action as social archaeology, an idea that the history of all parts of a population should be equally represented.

The discussion effectively shed light on many problems and solutions seen in preservation in city planning. New development often leads to the gentrification of an area. Residents are forced from their homes, either by rising costs or legally removed by landlords, and many local business owners are pushed out for new, more expensive stores and restaurants. The act of preservation should support social and public history, whether it’s a building or images from history. The information professional can support these actions in the retention, preservation, and archiving of historical items. Archiving and librarianship can begin including more representation in their catalogs, materials, and hiring processes [2, 3]. Academic discussions, such as Bending the Future of Preservation, can lead the conversation about diversity and equity in preservation. However, very little action has been seen in the world of informational professionals to commit to these ideas [4]. We must abandon the sense of neutrality in the public sphere that only perpetuates existing problems [5]. I believe each of the panelists echoed these concepts in their discussion and presented viable solutions to known problems in the preservation of history.

Citations

  1. The High Line | Friends of the High Line. (2016). Retrieved October 25, 2016, from

http://www.thehighline.org/

  1. Drabinski, E. (2013). Queering the Catalog: Queer Theory and the Politics of Correction.

The Library Quarterly, 83(2), 94-111. Retrieved October 25, 2016, from https://lms.pratt.edu/pluginfile.php/623243/mod_resource/content/1/drabinski-queering%20the%20catalog.pdf

  1. J. V. (2016, January 13). The Quest for Diversity in Library Staffing: From … Retrieved

October 25, 2016, from http://www.inthelibrarywiththeleadpipe.org/2016/quest-for-diversity/

  1. Rosenzweig, R. (1991). “Politics and anti-politics in librarianship” in ibid., 5–8. Retrieved

October 25, 2016, from http://www.progressivelibrariansguild.org/PL_Jnl/pdf/PL3_summer1991.pdf

  1. Jensen, R. (2006). “The myth of the neutral professional” in Questioning Library Neutrality,
  1. A. Lewis. Library Juice, 89–96. Retrieved October 24, 2016, from http://jonah.eastern.edu/emme/2006fall/jensen.pdf.
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