Preparing for the Future: A Quick Summary of PastForward 2018

By Priya Chhaya posted 11-20-2018 13:39


"What is in our jurisdiction, and what is not? When do we choose to act, and what do we choose to ignore?” —Terry Tempest Williams, Culture-Nature TrustLive

"Climate change is, at its core, a story about losing the places and cultures that make us who we are. America’s tangible and intangible heritage assets are in danger.” —Victoria Herrmann, Resilience TrustLive

PastFroward 2018 attendees mingle during the Preservation Leader and Chafee Award Reception at the San Francisco Ferry building. | Credit: Priya Chhaya

What are our responsibilities to the communities we serve as historic preservationists? Over the course of four days, PastForward attendees were asked to consider the intersections of climate resilience, the preservation of intangible heritage, and the culture-nature connection. During the conference, the discussions during Learning Labs, Field Studies, and TrustLives all coalesced around a few themes:

  1. The importance of listening. As preservationists work to tell the stories of historically underrepresented groups, we must acknowledge that trust takes time and that it is built by hearing their stories, rather than establishing our own narratives.
  2. The value of making way for new ideas. As we build a more inclusive preservation movement, the field must be willing to recognize new leaders and promote shared authority in protecting cultural heritage.
  3. The urgency of addressing climate change. In a startling yet very real example of the impact of climate change, PastForward attendees had to contend with the smoke and soot from a devastating wildfire that is still burning in Northern California. It is difficult to imagine a clearer illustration of what we have to lose, not only as preservation professionals but also as human beings.
PastForward 2018 pins | Credit: Priya Chhaya

Perhaps the task before us was best summarized by Stephanie K. Meeks, who spoke at PastForward for the last time before stepping down as president and CEO of the National Trust for Historic Preservation. Regarding climate resilience, she said:

As preservationists, we are accustomed to thinking about our built environment over time. Just as we’ve looked back over centuries to place historic places in context, we now need to help communities look forward centuries and begin preparing places now for what we know is coming.

More From PastForward 2018

For more from this year’s PastForward conference, follow #PastForward18 on Instagram and Twitter. We’ll be sharing videos and other materials from the conference over the next few weeks and into the new year. 

We have already begun planning PastForward 2019, which will take place in Denver, October 10–12—Thursday through Saturday, rather than the usual Wednesday through Friday. The call for ideas is open now through January 7.


Priya Chhaya is the associate director for publications and programs at the National Trust for Historic Preservation.


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