[Preservation Tips & Tools] How to Save a Place: Why Do Old Places Matter?
Happy Preservation Month, everyone! To mark this annual celebration of all things place-based, we at the National Trust are presenting a special toolkit series called "How to Save a Place." Consider it your preservation primer -- a one-stop shop for people who love places but aren’t sure how to save them. The great news is, you don’t have to go it alone. Many valuable resources, materials, and people are available to help. Over the next four weeks, we’ll walk you through the key elements of saving a place, from where to start to who to contact, and every step in between. So whether you’re a historic homeowner, local nonprofit, or simply an active citizen, you’ll find something here to help you out. Ready to take on this rewarding and exciting challenge? Terrific! Let’s start with a philosophical discussion -- namely, why do old places matter? And why should we do our best to save them? Read the series to date here: http://blog.preservationnation.org/tag/how-to-save-a-place
Published on: Mar 4, 2016
Transcripts - [Preservation Tips & Tools] How to Save a Place: Why Do Old Places Matter?
How to Save a Place
WHY DO OLD PLACES
In a constantly changing world, old places give us the sense that we’re part of
a continuum -- a critical piece of our psychological and emotional health.
Old places help us remember. They trigger existing memories, add
details or specificity, and arouse curiosity about embedded memories
-- those that the place itself holds and that people might not be aware
Old places serve as reference points for measuring, refreshing, and
recalibrating our sense of self over time. They are literally the landmarks of our
Civic, State, National, and Universal Identity
Old places embody our civic, state, national, and universal identity. They serve
as critical venues where we deepen and challenge our understanding of
history and personal meaning.
Old places make our communities
beautiful and distinctive, and the
places themselves are often beautiful
too, sometimes because of their very
age. Moreover, the history of
preservation demonstrates a
remarkable march of the ugly
transforming into the beautiful.
We feel the excitement of
experiencing the place where
something actually happened,
from pockmarked ramparts of
Fort Sumter where the Civil War
started, to the quiet rooms of
Emily Dickinson’s home in
Amherst, Massachusetts. Simply
put, old places tell us about the
We love and revere old buildings for their art and craftsmanship -- and for the
way they make us feel. Works of architecture are works of art. Like painting,
music, or literature, these buildings help us understand our capacities as
The religious and the non-religious alike treasure old places that are
considered sacred. Why? Because they help us meditate, reflect, and
be at peace. There are also places revered and treated as nearly
sacred because of their history, because of the difficult past they may
represent, or because they serve as memorials or sites of conscience.
Older places spur the imagination, spark creativity, and support the
creative economy. They lend authenticity to their neighborhoods and
inspire the people who use them.
Without realizing it, we absorb information about prior ways of life from the
places people inhabited -- how people worked, how they played, how they
lived and died. And in learning about others from the past, we learn about
In trying to envision a more environmentally sustainable world, we hope for a world
where we are more appreciative of the communities, buildings, and things that
already exist; and we also hope to continue to use them, so that we’re not
constantly tearing buildings down and throwing things away.
Old places connect us to our ancestors and our ancestors connect us to old
places, giving us a sense of belonging and continuity.
Old places foster community by giving
people a sense of shared identity
through landmarks, history, memory,
and stories; by having community-
centric attributes such as distinctive
character and walkability; and by
serving as communal places where
people meet and gather.
Old places support a sound, sustainable, and vibrant economy that also fulfills
deeper human needs of continuity, identity, belonging, and beauty …
… which brings us right back to where
This presentation was adapted from Thompson Mayes’ Why Do Old Places
Matter? Blog Series on Preservation Leadership Forum.
For a deeper discussion on why old places matter, check out the Spring
2015 issue of Forum Journal (free and available to all).
The National Trust for Historic Preservation works to save America’s
historic places. Preservation Tips & Tools helps others do the same
in their own communities.
For more information, visit blog.preservationnation.org.
Photo credits: Nick Thompson, Flickr; (cover
slide); National Trust for Historic Preservation
(slides 2, 6, 9, 10, 13, 14); Library of Congress
(slide 3); Tom Mayes (slide 4); AOC (slide 5);
Duncan Kendall (slide 7); Carol Highsmith (slide
8); Wing Luke Museum (slide 12); Historic
Tennessee Theatre Foundation (slide 15).