In 2004, I took a position with a non-profit called Preservation Texas. I had never really been aware of preservation as an industry, but I felt an immediate passion for the cause and recognized that the preservation of the built environment has always been important to me. I believe we must be good stewards of our past so that we can better plan for the future.
Have you ever thought about how it feels to turn down the street you grew up on? My parents still live in the house where I spent my formative years. I’m comfortable sleeping in my old bedroom and rummaging through the refrigerator in search of a late night snack. I still feel sad when I leave to return to my full and rich life in Austin. That’s because I have a connection not only with my family, but also with my surroundings. I relish the familiarity of the house, the neighborhood, and the city. That, to me, is a sense of place; a feeling of comfort; of belonging.
My sister and her husband bought my grandparents’ house in 2000. She wondered cautiously what my reaction might be. Happiness, Elation, Relief! I couldn’t bear the thought of strangers enjoying celebrations where my family once shared laughter, birthdays, and Christmas morning. So much of the inside of the house is changed to accommodate a large family and the pace of today’s life. But the bones are the same and the past echoes through them when we gather around the Christmas tree in front of the same picture window where my Grandparents’ tree always stood. I really treasure the link these new memories give me to the past.
I believe we all have a place that we relate to and that gives us each a sense of place. I fear we are in danger of losing special places if we don’t work to protect our communities. New houses of inappropriate mass and scale threaten our older neighborhoods. I believe it is wrong to demolish older houses that have long contributed to the look and livability of a community and are part of what make older neighborhoods desirable in the first place. Tearing down homes and replacing them with huge structures that overpower lot size, destroy mature trees and landscaping and raise property taxes, often drives longtime residents out of these areas and threatens the diversity of neighborhoods. I believe, with care and creativity, older homes can serve today’s families as well they did the families who built them fifty or one hundred years ago.
I believe that progress is important and that we have to accept development and growth in our neighborhoods, cities and towns. I know I can’t save every home in every neighborhood. But I believe that planning for and managing development in our communities will preserve a sense of place for generations to enjoy well into the future.
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