Progress vs. Preservation

I enjoyed reading about the history of preservation this week. As many people who have already posted have mentioned, the details of different architectural styles have always eluded me (and will probably continue to do so despite Tyler’s valiant efforts at making me more architecturally literate). Thus far, though, the book has focused on preservation of buildings. I would like to know more about views and approaches towards preservation of historic sites that do not include buildings.

The infamous “Wilderness Wal-Mart” is a situation that I have been following for the last few years, since Wal-Mart proposed to build a supercenter on or next to the Wilderness (Civil War) Battlefield in Virginia. The corporation was granted permission to build (albeit with certain restrictions) back in the summer of 2009, but the battle by preservationists raged on, and Wal-Mart finally renounced its plans just a few months ago. (See http://blog.preservationnation.org/2011/01/26/breaking-news-national-trust-for-historic-preservation-commends-wal-mart%E2%80%99s-decision-to-withdraw-plans-for-supercenter-at-wilderness-battlefield)

This twenty-first century battle over a nineteenth-century battle brings up issues that were mentioned in the book regarding what should be preserved and to what extent. (Somehow I don’t think that Wal-Mart would apply a Contextualist approach to its building plans.) Space is often scarce in cities, and thus some historic buildings must be renovated to accommodate modern functions; likewise, land is becoming a precious commodity in our increasingly urbanized and suburbanized nation–even if it has historical significance.  Preservationists can ask, “Do we really need another Wal-Mart?” But on the other hand, proponents of commercial “progress” can question–probably with reason, though I am loath to admit it–just how much of an expansive battlefield really needs to be used to exhibit its historical significance. Is land equally as worthy of preservation as buildings?

(Here is an interesting article about the “development versus preservation” debate. Apparently it is going on at other battlefields and historic sites as well: http://www.newsweek.com/2011/01/12/battle-over-the-battlefields.html)

One thought on “Progress vs. Preservation”

  1. I agree with you, Walmart should not be built next to a Civil War battlefield in Virginia. I was happy to read that the preservationists were able to get Walmart to cancel their plans. I always find it strange when I hear about a chain store, or large business that wants to build so close to a historic site. I think there should be safeguards in place to prevent “modern” or “commercial” buildings from invading the preserved landscape. It was at least 10 years ago or more that I read an article that there was a large dance club that was going to be built near or close to a concentration camp in Poland – it was either Auschwitz or Treblinka I’m not sure which one. There was a great deal of protesting and complaints, later on the club decided to built somewhere else.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *