The summer issue of The American Scholar arrived in my mail slot a day late. You might wonder why I receive a publication called The American Scholar. Well, I am American, so one out of three ain’t bad.
I was struck by a brief essay by Edward Hoagland titled “Spaced Out in the City.” A native of New York City, the author enjoys the “grand potpourri of ego-crowing towers” and the hustle and bustle of street life, of important people and not-so-important people mingling and banging into each other. But he’s noticed in the last decade that the people on the street are less engaged with their surroundings and more engaged in talking on their cell phones, texting, or just fiddling with games and such. He wonders what will happen to the city when the people who live there aren’t really “there.”
This section especially made me think about the possible broader effect of our increasingly virtual world on the preservation movement:
The dilution of space by cyberspace may be earthshaking, as species dwindle ever faster, unobserved, and vintage neighborhoods are steamrollered without grief. Not that human nature changes, but the scale and pace of its operations are new. To google Tibetan tarns devalues as well as demystifies them. Union Square, Abingdon Square, Sheridan Square, Washington Square, Tompkins Square, Stuyvesant Square, Madison Square, Sheep Meadow: these locations, precious to me in memory, should not change unrecognizably anytime soon. The question is whether people will continue to live in them, or primarily inside the digitry of their screens.
I admit I’m kind of in a gloomy phase in my assessment of the current state of preservation, so maybe I’m overly susceptible to doom-saying. I do sense, though, that for all our society’s talk about “heritage,” “preserving the past,” etc., preservationists seem to be increasingly struggling to connect with the general public in meaningful ways. And by meaningful ways, I mean ways that actually preserve and protect buildings and places–as actual living places inhabited by engaged humans. That “steamrollered without grief” is a scary prediction–I hope it doesn’t come true.
Categories: Historic Preservation