Supporters of historic preservation have often been deemed obstructionists, something that probably dates back to when the movement in the US first began, in the mid-19th century. But does standing (sometimes literally) in the way of a building demolition really equate to “standing in the way of progress?”

A recent article on the Next American City “Buzz” blog draws attention to the various stereotypes that exist about preservationists. Anyone who has been involved in preservation here in Portland, OR has probably heard these at one time or another:

“here’s the gray-haired old lady laying herself down in front of an oncoming bulldozer, the guy dedicated to rescuing decrepit buildings and saving historical artifacts, and the   Not-In-My-Back-Yard types preventing economic development at every turn.”

As the article points out, there are some folks who probably do fit these stereotypes, but it is also completely inaccurate to generalize historic preservationists as foes to progress.

A January 10, 2010 article about the future of the Dirty Duck Tavern building in NW Portland, echoes the sort of stereotypes mentioned above, bringing things home to Portland:

“Preservationists like many single issue groups in Portland are anarchists that believe that their way is correct and compromise or collaboration is not a process in which they want to participate. It is opposition for the sake of opposition. They are satisfied to leave the building empty as long as it serves their ends.”

Over the past 150 years, preservationists have certainly evolved. Ask one these days and you’ll find that probably most have moved away from a focus on preserving only the grandest of buildings and toward the preservation of whole communities, where architecture might not even play much of a role, except to give residents a “sense of place.” The trouble with this new paradigm is that preservationists (at least to some extent) have not brought the public along with them. The movement needs to make sure that as we look at preservation through the more recent lenses of community and sustainability that we do not forget to help people along the way, to better understand where we are going and why.

This Preservation in Pink blog post, addresses 10 myths preservationists often face. These myths need debunking just as some of the stereotypes mentioned above.

As always, we’d love to hear from you.

What do you think about these stereotypes and myths?

What can we do to better in order to break these down?