Yet to Come: The Most Important U.S. History Makers

Posted September 4th, 2016 by maryanthony and filed in Executive Director's Blog

 The L'Enfant Trust_side by side

Home for a future history-maker? photos courtesy of the L’Enfant Trust, Washington, DC

There is some serious stuff going on right now in the world. Racial tensions, Zika virus, an angry election, unsustainable energy demands, environmental degradation and climate change happening much faster than we thought it might.

And on a much smaller and more selfish level, I had my own challenging stuff this week. The first day of my vacation landed me in the hospital for major emergency surgery. (Because, vacation.)

These forced groundings – snowstorms, airport layovers and hospital visits- do have a benefit.  They allow time and brain space for serious reflection. (And this one also came with narcotics, so I took some bad pictures of the historic homes on Friendship Sreet from my window. Because, still vacation.)

Reflections on my work at the 1772 Foundation always point back to the 1772’s focus on historic properties redevelopment programs: preservation that puts people and community at the forefront and values entrepreneurial approaches to saving buildings and neighborhoods.

We focus on this area at some expense to more traditional architectural and historic gems, since our limited funds must be used in a highly strategic way to make an impact in an underfunded field and we can’t fund it all.  It is fair to say that a significant percentage of 1772 money is diverted from some of the more classically important and beautiful historic buildings to this redevelopment work, and it is something we constantly question and reevaluate.

My grounding gave me time to question and reevaluate and I was reminded of a simple truth: so much of the great arc of U.S. history is yet to come. To stand firmly in 2016 and only look backward- at buildings and historic figures fixed in the past- is to ignore this elementary but profound fact.  It hasn’t all been done yet. We have astonishing challenges before us- as difficult and as critically important as the American Revolution, the Civil War, the New Deal, etc. We need spirited, brave, innovative leaders to take us into the next 240 years.  Perhaps our preservation work should always be focused on the future.

The efforts of our future leaders deserve to be nurtured in rich and vibrant communities; in places and spaces that cherish indigenous character, beauty and history but still leave room for revolutionary new growth and the great and good history-making that will take root in these incubator spaces.  This is people-based preservation; the very type of preservation on which we focus through our historic properties redevelopment funding.

So, my narcotic-filter hospital window pictures of the historic homes turned out to be meaningful to me. During my forced grounding, I reaffirmed my belief that we need to save these neighborhoods and communities for the history-makers yet to come- those who will create new sustainable energy methods, who will teach us how to be kinder to each other, and who will find cures for disease and global warming. Because that is what preservation is really for- to provide an enriched environment for the history yet to come.