Monday, September 12, 2005

Placemaking, Preservation, Progress

The NY Times has a terrific slideshow and article about Mississippi preservationists and residents assessing the loss of distinctive places wrought by Hurricane Katrina. Florence Williams writes insightfully about the intimate connection between people and places.
"Our concern is that people might think we care more about buildings than people, but buildings are them and their community," said Jennifer Baughn, an architectural historian for the Mississippi Department of Archives and History.
"You can lose what makes a place a place," Ms. Baughn added.
Indeed. One longtime Biloxi resident said,
"I'm going to miss so much the Colonial Revival homes that gave me pleasure every day, and now they're all gone. It makes me want to move away. I'm terrified of what's going to replace them."
But Ken P'Pool (sic), director of historical preservation for the State Archives tried to be somewhat optimistic:
"[The historic buildings that survived] will become the symbols of stability and continuity around which communities will rebuild."
It strikes me that communities like Biloxi and New Orleans, which have a strong sense of identity and a healthy self-regard, are likeliest to preserve their architectural heritage and use it as a jumping-off spotfor new development.
But insecure, "wannabe" cities are likelier to tear down their own architectural heritage as being "just old," and to try to emulate the lastest development fads and fashions.
Which kind of city is Greensboro? A year ago, I would have said that we're pathetic wannabes.
But the city council is now talking about re-using the old Canada Dry warehouse as an ACC Hall of Champions. Action Greensboro is helping to restore the original facade of a building downtown. And city staff and citizens are discussing ways to preserve War Memorial Stadium, albeit in a probably diminshed form. Maybe we're not such Charlotte-Raleigh-Atlanta wannabes any more: maybe we're comfortable being ourselves. I'm hopeful that the city is reaching a kind of preservation-and-progress tipping point.
Still, some people still aren't quite getting it.


Anonymous said...

Thanks so much for the post, David. I really enjoyed the slide show, though it nearly broke my heart. The closest I've ever been to Biloxi or New Orleans is Natchez, another city whose bread and butter comes from historic architecture and those who appreciate it. Their buildings are part of who they are -- part of who their grandparents were, etc.

I agree that people are more important than buildings, but buildings are what make people comfortable, productive, and profitable. No reason to drive all the way to MIssissippi if their buildings look just like those on Green Valley Rd.

I especially love the photo of Davis' statue among the ruins. It's a little staged (did the flag really just end up there?) but it sure is thought provoking.


Anonymous said...

Cheap shot, David. If I wanted to read John Hammer's thinking, I'd pick up the Rhino.

David Wharton said...

I'd like to respond, Anonymous, but which part of my post do you think was the cheap shot?