Focusing on the Future
By Stephanie K. Meeks | From Preservation | January/February 2011
This year's National Preservation Conference was full of memorable moments, but one of my favorites was the chance to meet four young preservationists from Tucson, Ariz. Sabrina Garay, Adrian Ruiz, Paulina Gomez, and Jesus Ortega were finalists in a national contest to design the "school of the future"—an environmentally friendly place that enhances learning and engages the surrounding community.
Most of the middle schoolers who participated assumed this meant planning a school from scratch, but Sabrina, Adrian, Paulina, and Jesus live in a vibrant Latino community where, for nearly 100 years, children have attended a Spanish Baroque-style school in the center of town. The building is a much-beloved local landmark, and my young friends set out to prove that it could also become a model of 21st-century sustainability.
Their ecofriendly ideas for rehabbing Roskruge Bilingual Magnet Middle School would make any preservationist proud, but what I found most inspiring was how easily they embraced the notion that it was possible—indeed desirable—to blend the best of the old and the new. This puts them squarely at the center of the historic preservation movement today.
Yet, like many young people doing preservation-related work—and many older people as well—they didn't initially think of themselves as preservationists. Right now there are countless people living in historic homes, or working to revitalize their communities, or finding green ways to rehabilitate their Modernist neighborhoods, who share our values and goals but don't realize that they are part of the historic preservation movement.
Our challenge is to bring these people more fully into the fold. Toward that end, we're building new partnerships and providing new tools and resources to make preservation more accessible. And we're reaching out to diverse communities nationwide. As part of this effort to be inclusive, we recently convened a series of listening sessions with leaders in Latino and Hispanic communities across the country. We learned that for many of them, preservation is as much about telling forgotten stories as it is about saving particular historic sites.
Given this need, we're exploring a variety of tools, from community-based site inventories to videos and oral histories, to make sure our work embraces the full range of American cultural experiences. As Interior Secretary Ken Salazar succinctly put it in a recent address to the Advisory Council on Historic Preservation, "Everybody's history is important," and there is "no better engine" than historic preservation for driving the way America's story is told.
I couldn't agree more. And I'm proud to be working with all of you to preserve the places that tell America's story in all its richness and diversity.
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