Progress vs. Preservation
One of the hardest parts of building a community is maintaining that delicate balance between honoring the past and making the changes that need to happen to ensure a better future. Just look at all the debate that swelled up around the new library and the old church building next to it. It’s a classic example where one person’s blight is another’s timeless architecture. Good luck arbitrating that discussion.
Preservation vs. Progress: How do you pick?
The rhetorical answer is that you shouldn’t have to pick — these priorities should be complementary, not exclusive of one another. In principle that sounds great but try telling that to your 90 year old grandma after she chains herself to the front stoop to stop the bulldozers of tomorrow’s development and see how far you get with either grandma or the bulldozer operator.
These sorts of issues push people way back into their corners and that gives them a chance to build up a good head of steam as they come racing out to fight at the sound of the bell. The reason these issues seem to agitate us so much is that they rub our core values up against each other which creates friction, which increases heat, which can lead us to boil over.
Values can have some logic behind them but that’s not a prerequisite so usually there’s very little room for reasoned discussion based on facts. This is one of those “because I said so” diatribes that drove us insane as kids and we tend to react in the same way as adults when we hear that kind of explanation.
I’m anxious for a team of biologists to report that they’ve found the gene sequence that influences our time orientation — predisposing us as natural historians or futurists. Until then I guess we take it one day at a time trying to decide individually and collectively when a “piece of history” has outlived its relevance.
I’ve heard it said that just because something is old doesn’t mean it has historical value. I’d say that most of us know people that fit that description and it wouldn’t be a stretch to say the same about buildings — at least until we’re asked about one of our favorite buildings and then logic is relegated to the back seat behind our emotionally based values.
I certainly don’t pretend to have the cure to this malady but I do have a strong sense that it’s like asking which half of the brain is better — the right or left? The last time I checked we need them both to enjoy a meaningful life and I’d say the same for preservation and progress. I’ve reconciled myself to the fact that this will always be an inherently messy debate so I try to not let the tension get to me but it can still be very stressful.
Iin the field of psychology there are clinical instances where anxiety and despair have disrupted the functional link that connects subjective past, present, and future. The individual is unable to conceive of his life as a whole. It is helpful for therapists to understand the specific way a client has organized himself with respect to time, how this pattern may have become disrupted, and how therapy can help restore the sense of continuity from who one has been to who one is now and who one will yet become.
Community is the ultimate expression of individuality so perhaps what’s true for us individually is true for us collectively. To that end it’s no surprise that so many cities are now trying to re-create old town squares and that developers are building neo-traditional homes with front porches and other architectural features that hark back to earlier days.
It’s always important for any community – even if it’s a new one or has been around for 200 years – to have a sense of place. You can’t separate a community from its history. But likewise I’ve heard it said that the only thing more important than where you came from is where you’re going.
Here’s a few old photos of Kent employees building the city that we enjoy today that Mr. Steve Hardesty, Water Plant Manager, had saved in his files and was kind enough to share with me. I thought you’d enjoy them as well and as you do I hope you’ll have a new appreciation for everything these people did to make Kent what it is today and ask yourself what are we doing to pass that legacy on to the next generation of Kent kids.