Heritage Movement – USA

Professional Associations


Pensylvania Station exterior 1911In discussing the early days of the heritage movement in America, Rhonda Sincavage posts on the Public History Commons website (5 May 2015) that the movement was very much in its “young adulthood” and was experiencing growing pains. Mature enough to have already learned from the mistakes of its infancy (such as the loss of Penn Station in 1963 and countless battles over urban renewal) but still forming its identity, priorities, and direction, preservation at the time was faced with new challenges, such as ongoing criticism of gentrification, the proliferation of sprawl and “big box” retail, and questions of what and how to preserve. She says that we have learned from these challenges, and today preservation stands more comfortably in its middle age. However, the movement needs to solidify certain priorities and directions and critically, it needs to engage a broader base of supporters.

Pensylvania Station 1911Sincavage states that we find difficulty in communicating the value of historic preservation for preservation’s sake. We have perfected justifying preservation in terms of jobs created and economic benefits, but while these economic defenses have been useful, the movement as a whole has been negligent in allowing money to dominate public discussions of preservation’s value. There is real need for preservationists to identify, articulate, and communicate preservation’s value in historic and cultural terms.”

Even in the 1990s, this idea was not a new one says Sincavage. “Building conservation is of more than just practical importance. It is essential to the health and humanity of a community environment. Just as is common during times of war, massive destruction of a community’s physical fabric as a part of a plan for redevelopment can remove much of what provides a stabilising influence on people’s lives. Preservation gives strength and permanence to its local community.”

Pensylvania Station proposed redesignShe says that we are just now beginning to make progress on articulating the softer side of preservation and there is research to suggest a focus on environmental psychology, emotional aspects and aesthetic factors that challenge the field to rethink the way we message the importance of historic preservation and why people should care about it i.e. communicating the symbolic function of historic preservation to the public.

These developments demonstrate that the international heritage movement has made strides in tackling the advancing of its status as a broad-based popular movement while it changes its theoretical framework. With the 50th anniversary of the National Historic Preservation Act (USA) upon us, national organisations and federal agencies are taking the opportunity to reflect on how the movement has developed and what we still need to accomplish. Sincavage suggests that summits are already being planned to engage not just preservation professionals but allied fields on how to make preservation more relevant to a broader audience.

~ Rhonda Sincavage is the Director of Publications and Programs at the National Trust for Historic Preservation in Washington, DC.

Paul Rappoport – Heritage 21 – 22 May 2015



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