Events & News

Preservation’s Past

October 14, 2007 | Anthony C. Wood, Founder & Chair
Article from the Fall 2007 Newsletter

Winston Churchill instructed, “The farther backward you can look, the farther forward you are likely to see.” We are at a rare moment in the city’s history; NYC is consciously looking forward. So too must the city’s preservation community. Fortunately, because of a growing focus on preservation’s past, New York’s preservationists now have the ability to look backward to obtain the perspective and context essential for their looking forward.

The Mayor is focusing attention on NYC 2030. Prodded by the prediction of one million more New Yorkers by the year 2030, with all the housing and infrastructure needs that will accompany them, the Mayor has put forward PlaNYC 2030. Though that vision fails to recognize preservation as a vehicle to shape and enrich the City’s future, it has begun to trigger conversations in the preservation community about both the future of NYC and the role of preservation in that future. Because of the work of NYPAP and others, NYC’s preservationists have access to the history needed to seriously contemplate their future.

This year the city’s attention has and is being focused on preservation’s history in unprecedented ways. The retrospective on the legacy of Robert Moses began conversations that will no doubt be continued this fall by the exhibit on Jane Jacobs at the Municipal Art Society. This summer inquisitive New Yorker’s had the chance to learn more about early historic preservation efforts in Brooklyn Heights. Later this fall, thanks to NYPAP’s nonprofit sponsorship, Preserving New York: Winning the Right to Protect a City’s Landmarks will be released by Routledge Press. It reclaims the fifty years of preservation’s history lost in the common misperception that the origins of NYC’s landmarks law are to be found in the wreckage of Pennsylvania Station. On February 16, 2008 the Archive Project, with the co-sponsorship of the Museum of the City of New York, will be hosting a day-long symposium on the history of preservation in NYC, “Preserving New York Then and Now: The Symposium.”

Looking to preservation’s past is not an antiquarian exercise but rather an essential first step towards planning preservation’s future. Thanks to your help, NYPAP has been able to help NYC’s preservation movement rediscover its own history. That window to the past is opening at a most fortuitous time, just as we are called to turn our eyes and thoughts to preservation’s future.