Forum Bulletin

To Preserve and Conserve: Preservation in the Next 50 Years 

11-19-2009 00:00

Donovan Rypkema, real estate consultant, laid out his vision for preservation in the next 50 years at the annual Forum lunch at the National Preservation Conference in Nashville.  His speech was a bit of a “kick in the pants” for preservationists, as he urged the audience to look beyond the established standards and practices of the preservation profession in order to remain relevant in a vastly changing world.

Rypkema, author of Economics of Historic Preservation, painted two pictures of preservation. The first was the traditional view of preservation where the buildings are saved because of their association with a famous historical figure or architect. The second picture revealed a vibrant movement that pushes boundaries and celebrates places for their importance to the community.  He pointed to the recent This Place Matters campaign as the prime example—the places were nominated because they mattered to the local community.  Based on these results, he called on the audience to consider the basic question--what do we want to preserve and why?  

He suggested that in order to move forward, preservationists should reexamine the regulatory environment, philosophy, and education of the preservation field. Preservationists should not remain fixated on strict authenticity; instead, they should allow buildings and cities to evolve over time.  They should develop new land-use tools aside from historic designation, and broaden their focus from “green” buildings to the bigger picture of sustainable development.  He also encouraged preservationists to start paying more attention to changing demographics, since the preservationists of the future will mirror the changing composition of this country. 

He ended with a challenge—maybe American preservationists should join the rest of the world and advocate for “heritage conservation” and not “historic preservation.”  Instead of preserving (to keep in perfect or unaltered condition) maybe they should focus on conserving (to protect from loss or depletion) historic resources. Making this change presents an “opportunity for heritage conservation not just to become more relevant, but to increase its relevance a hundred fold.”

To read Donovan Rypkema’s entire speech from Nashville visit his blog at

Discuss this article and his ideas on Forum-L.

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Author(s):Priya Chhaya