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A Preservation Vision: To Serve the Common Good 

12-09-2015 17:35

I want to speak to you today about the role of historic preservation in creating better places to live for people of all income levels and races. I believe that at the heart of this role is the need for vision. You are here at this conference as leaders and people of vision. Every form of positive change and transformation begins with vision. The Book of Proverbs states: “Where there is no vision, the people perish.”

Last summer Cleveland’s public television and radio stations, WVIZ and WCPN, conducted a series of listening sessions throughout the region. The single word “vision” was cited as the most critical precursor to addressing community challenges. People’s top recommendations included fostering a positive can-do attitude, erasing the divide between central city and suburbs, and developing partnerships in support of the arts, culture, and community services.

More and more, we are faced with the need for a vision that embraces the big picture of what is happening around us. We need to think from a regional perspective rather than from the perspective of competing parochial interests. As a bishop, encouraging this way of thinking -- the collaborative mentality -- has been one of my greatest priorities. I believe that the success of all of our work depends upon our ability to address the importance of balance and interdependence within our respective regions. Sometimes it is much easier to just see a part of the picture and ignore the rest. But we cannot escape the need to address the fundamental interdependence in our lives. We are created for interdependence. The only way to be human is together.

The Church in the City

I would like to mention an initiative of our Catholic diocese, which we have named “The Church in the City.” Our diocese comprises an eight-county area with three urban centers -- Akron, Lorain/Elyria, and Cleveland—along with many suburbs and rural areas. In 1993, I issued a statement which expressed a challenge to build new cities -- cities where people of different incomes, races, and cultures can live together and be enriched together. Neighborhoods with mixed incomes, cultures, and religions enrich everyone. They become a witness of how we are meant to live together. We need cities where the poor and disadvantaged can achieve their rightful dignity and potential. Everyone wants to live in a decent neighborhood of which they can be proud. This vision lies at the heart of our religious beliefs and our national heritage.

The Church in the City vision acknowledges the years of out-migration from our central cities -- years of unbalanced investment which promoted housing and economic growth in outlying areas to the neglect of central city neighborhoods. This imbalance led to lost opportunities to reinvest in older housing stock, which could have brought new life to neighborhoods and maintained the historic legacy of past eras. This unbalanced investment did not give people fair choices to remain in city neighborhoods. Many people do not want to move out. The pattern of unbalanced investment has led to increasing isolation of people by race, culture, and income. The resulting isolation is simply not right in our common striving to build a good and just society.

The Church in the City vision challenges people to recognize the fundamental interdependence of our lives as a metropolitan community. For all of us, whether we live in a city, suburb, or rural area, and whatever our nationality and religious beliefs, we are one metropolitan society. We are far more interdependent than our many civic or organizational boundaries would lead us to believe. We share one economy and one environment. Our civic boundaries are in some ways an illusion that distracts us from the real needs and the real capabilities of our one society.

One of the most inspiring and enduring aspects of The Church in the City has been the development of different forms of partnership that bring people together from very different situations to better serve the common good. Let me cite the example of parish partnerships. These partnerships have formed between parishes in the inner city and parishes in outlying suburban and rural areas. People intentionally go out of their way to travel from one parish to another, across considerable distance and across boundaries of different cultures and economic realities. They take time to pray and to socialize, to work together, and to initiate projects of service to the wider community. New possibilities and new life have emerged. People have come to see that no one is too poor to have something to give, and no one is too rich to receive. We have all come to realize that while little happens between strangers, all kinds of things are possible among friends.

Partnerships that Build Community

Historic preservation must address the “big picture” of a region and deepen the connectedness and interdependence among people in different settings. We need preservation projects that build partnerships and bring people together from throughout a metropolitan area. The work of historic preservation is built upon creating partnerships among neighborhood residents, businesses, government, community organizations, and religious groups -- partnerships that recognize the interdependence of preservation work in the central city and the wider metropolitan and rural communities. We need to foster partnerships that recognize that there are no limits to cooperation -- no boundaries that should divide us -- in service to the common good. The power of partnerships is enhanced when people show great respect for the wisdom and talents that each person brings to the table, and when people know their need for one another.

Places that Embody Values

The work of historic preservation responds to a deeper need that is important for all of us, for people of every race and culture: the need to remember “who we are,” our roots and our heritage, our values and our beliefs. Life today is very complex and fast paced. It can be chaotic for some people. It can be difficult to distinguish between what is trivial and what is important. One of the great struggles for some of our people, and especially for some of our youth, is found in the experience of “rootlessness” -- in being confused or forgetting “who they are” and “where they came from,” in being without a deeper sense of heritage and lasting values, in being without hope. Life becomes all the more difficult when this sense of identity, of “who I am,” is lost.

One very significant way that we help people to remember “who they are” is through the proper care and use of our historic places -- our buildings, neighborhoods, and sacred spaces. These places provide us with a sense of rootedness -- with a link to the past that helps us to better understand our direction for the future. Across our country, historic places and districts have been the centers of urban rejuvenation. Preservation efforts have proven to be a breath of life in dying and struggling communities. Historic places help us to recall the people, events, and values that we really do want to remember -- values that bring depth, meaning, and hope to people’s lives.

I want to note in a particular way the value of religious buildings. Within neighborhoods struggling with diminished populations and fewer resources, our churches, temples, and mosques have stood out as symbols of enduring presence and lasting values, as places of great beauty and reverence, as centers of service and support to the people of the surrounding community. For many people, they are symbols of the great sacrifices made by past generations of immigrant peoples from different parts of the world -- people who made such sacrifices because they remembered who they were: people who achieved what seemed impossible with very limited means. In our Catholic diocese, the churches maintained in urban areas continue to bring people back into “old neighborhoods” week after week. Many people might never come back and maintain a relationship to the old neighborhood without their presence. These churches and their ministries clearly give hope to many different people in the surrounding neighborhoods. And there is nothing more important we can do than to give hope to people -- the kind of hope that inspires a better life.

Preservation as a Calling

Please know that your work as preservationists means far more than words can tell. The work of restoration and preservation has a deeper purpose. It is a way of sharing in the great work of God’s creation. It contributes lasting value. I believe that there is a deep hunger in our lives to make a difference -- to leave something that we know has made the world a better place. Preservation work makes the world a better place.

You are people who create vision. You implement the vision and get things done. This is not an easy task. But it is your calling. Being a leader with a vision is not easy because you see and believe in possibilities before others see them, before they are popular and everyone wants to do them. You can look at an old, dilapidated structure that no one cares about and see a restored building revealing exquisite craftsmanship and the historic legacy of another era. You can look upon a parcel of land long forgotten and taken for granted, and see a place teaming with life -- with individuals and families remembering and celebrating things of value. But the road from vision to reality is not easy. Remember that so many of our greatest achievements in preservation and in all forms of human endeavor came forth because someone had the courage to keep the vision alive and the willingness to make the sacrifices to see it come true.

Publication Date: Winter 2003


Author(s):The Most Reverend Anthony M. Pilla

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