January 4, 2013

My Preservation Resolution: Build the Movement in 2013

  • By: Priya Chhaya

Shutterbug series at Central Terminal, Buffalo, NY. Credit: National Trust for Historic Preservation
Local preservationists at Buffalo's Central Terminal.

Observation: This is my fourth year putting pen to paper to map out my annual goals (see 2010, 2011, and 2012), and I’ve noticed that as the years go by, my list gets less specific.

Look at last year’s resolution, for example:

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.

It could be that my resolutions are increasingly aspirational, and thus a little broader. But to look at it another way, my resolutions increasingly commit me to taking a stand, to changing minds and changing hearts -- not just with one action, but with a whole year of actions, one at a time.

That’s the approach I took in 2012 as I personally and professionally worked to advance the cause of preservation. For example:

  • I shared my travels throughout the year: Gettysburg, Baltimore, Ft. Worth, Milwaukee, Beaufort, Lake George, 1000 Islands, Albuquerque, Spokane, Seattle -- literally, from sea to shining sea. Some trips were for conferences and training, while on others I talked about the importance of history with the family and friends I visited.
  • My writing went beyond geographic locations when I shared my thoughts on the pull of place in popular television, unexpected finds, and "The House That Jack Built."
  • I helped launch the new Preservation Leadership Forum blog, a place where preservation leaders can find the latest in preservation resources and information. (Case in point: our list of preservation trends to watch in the coming year.)
With each piece I tried to illustrate how (to quote another phrase from last year’s post) “preservation is, at its root, a practice of the soul.”

Shutterbug series at H.H. Richardson Complex, Buffalo, NY. Credit: National Trust for Historic Preservation
Local preservationists at Buffalo's Richardson Center.

But now it’s time to take it a step further, because while that statement is still true, heart alone can’t save places. I think we need to reinforce that preservation is a practice of the mind and hands as well, and that we need to pull together to reveal preservation’s positive, tangible impact on people and communities.

That’s why I’m resolving to build the movement in 2013 -- and I’m hoping you’ll join me.

So how exactly can we make this happen? Well, let’s get more specific:

  • Emphasize the human connection. By all means, share the impressive figures about the economic impact preservation has on communities. But also introduce the unconverted to local business owners who just opened their storefront on Main Street, to residents now living in adapted senior housing, to neighbors using the rehabbed library, and let them tell their stories firsthand of how preservation improved their lives.
  • Heighten the drama. We’ve all had a moment when a beautiful building or sweeping landscape takes our breath away. Preservation combines history, art, architecture, culture, and memory -- a potent and compelling combination. By capturing and conveying the built environment’s dynamic beauty, we can broaden its appeal and inspire others to marvel, too.
  • Support the village. At the end of the day, all preservation is local. People want to save what makes their neighborhoods special, and they spring into action when that fabric is threatened. Give your community the tools (and education) they need to blog, petition, tweet, post, rally, march, celebrate, and ultimately save the places they love.
  • Set the bar high. To quote Coldplay, “nobody said it was easy / no one ever said it would be this hard.” But the longer the odds, the more satisfying the victory. Let’s think big. Let’s set ambitious goals. Let’s expect the best and work hard to realize it. We have the guts; now let’s go for the glory.
So there’s my resolution for 2013: Build the movement. Sure, it is still a little broad, but we can take specific actions within it. You and I already love places. Imagine what will happen when we rally all the other people who do, too.Happy New Year!

Apollo Theater, Oberlin, Ohio. Credit: National Trust for Historic Preservation
Local preservationists at the Apollo Theater in Oberlin, Ohio.

Julia Rocchi also contributed to this post.

While her day job is the associate director of content at the National Trust for Historic Preservation, Priya spends other waking moments musing, writing, and learning about how the public engages and embraces history.


The National Trust's African American Cultural Heritage Action Fund has awarded $3 million in grants to 40 places preserving Black history.

See the List