Editor's Note: Click here for full coverage on the Why Do Old Places Matter? series including the Spring 2015 issue of Forum Journal.
Tom Mayes, a 2013 Rome Prize winner in Historic Preservation from the American Academy in Rome, is back in Washington, D.C., these days. But he hasn't stopped thinking and writing about why old places matter. His series of essays about his experiences and research concludes here. Check back next week for information on the spring 2015 issue of Forum Journal which looks at "Why Do Old Places Matter?" from a variety of different perspectives.
Old places support a sound, sustainable and vibrant economy.
In writing this series of essays about why old places matter, I have intentionally saved the discussion of how old places support a sustainable and vibrant economy to the last. Why? Because the other fundamental reasons for keeping, using, reusing and preserving old places are given short shrift, and professional preservationists often jump right to the argument that saving old places is economically beneficial, assuming that the economic argument is the only one decision-makers will want to hear. But it seems to me that starting a discussion about the importance of saving an old place with the economic rationale, immediately positions people who care about old places on the defensive, as if old places are only worth keeping for economic reasons or if they can justify themselves economically. And often the economic justification is assessed by narrow and limited economic measurements that don’t fully take the broader economic—and other—values of old places into account.1
Old places are deeply beneficial to people because of the way they give us a sense of continuity, identity and belonging, because they inspire us with awe, beauty and sacredness, because they tell us about history, ancestry and learning, and because they foster healthy, sustainable communities. Not all of these “non-use values,” can (yet) be fully measured economically—although increasingly, people are trying. Keeping and using old places is good for people for those reasons even if the historic places can’t fully pay for themselves or if they require subsidies or other public support. Fortunately, there seems to be a growing desire to measure and weigh “non-use values,” as economists call these not-easily-measurable values.... Read More →