Architectural historian Max Page believes America’s preservation movement has reached a crossroads. His new book, Why Preservation Matters, written to mark the 50th anniversary of the 1966 National Historic Preservation Act, critiques where the movement has gone and ponders where it should go. The fundamental problems, according to the author, are that it’s too focused on aesthetics, too inclined to emulate the museum approach to conserving and curating precious objects, and—because of the gentrifi- cation and displacement it can catalyze—“too often used as a tool for enshrining the inequality between rich and poor that is the stamp of our global age.” The book attempts “to look beyond the practices of conservation to the role of preservation as a force in public life.”
This broader view has been taking shape at the national level for a generation, thanks in large part to the leadership of Richard Moe, National Trust for Historic Preservation president from 1993 to 2009. Quoting Moe’s speech praising National Preservation Award winners in 2000, Page writes, “Preservation isn’t just about saving historic buildings. It’s about saving historic neighborhood schools for our children, revitalizing downtowns, making historic homes affordable, and protecting our ethnic heritage.” But Page doesn’t think Moe went far enough, and he takes aim at one of that year’s winners, Mayor Daley of Chicago, for allowing for-profit development too large a role in setting the agenda.