Track 4: Diversity, Population Change, and Gentrification in the Preservation Dialogue
Historic preservation has been a field traditionally concerned with the conservation of objects and places of historical significance. The nineteenth-century schools of thought about heritage that pinned Le-Duc against Morris in a scrape versus anti-scrape debate were both addressing a way to deal with the past as an object. Often times, preservation has revolved around architecturally significant buildings of the past that help people and cities tell official narratives through the built environment. Puerto Rico is one of those places where preservation has been concerned with highlighting the beauty of the architecture built by the Spaniards over five centuries ago. Through this approach the main focus has been to maintain a connection to the past without questioning it, in order to extract a series of benefits from it. Some of these benefits are quite tangible such as the draw this architecture has for tourist and others less so, such as its assistance in giving continuity to the status quo. However, in times as complex as ours where fiction and reality seem so interchangeable, it is necessary to question what is the aim of preservation?
This is particularly important in Puerto Rico where recovery efforts post-hurricane Maria demand new ways of thinking and doing things in all fields and at all levels. This paper proposes to rethink preservation not as an aim in itself, but as a tool to accomplish some important tasks in a country that has been forever altered by a natural disaster that put in evidence a plethora of man-made ones by designing a new way to find significant places and objects in communities destroyed by Hurricane Maria. One of the first tasks that rethinking preservation demands is a new understanding of the role of the discipline. Particularly, the need for it to be understood as a tool to responsibly manage change in the built environment rather than as an end in itself. It is also crucial to consider the possibilities preservation presents as a contributing element in the reintegration of the relationship between people and place. This means that rather than a formal place identity constructed and maintained through a top-down approach where significance is attributed through a series of external criteria, preservation should incorporate participation as a decision-making tool. Participatory preservation could help in the efforts to build resilience at a time where it is absolutely necessary to do so. This is especially significant in a place like Puerto Rico. Our current political condition makes our relationship to the future so uncertain, which makes our relationship to the past especially important.