By Rita Steele
This year’s Providence Symposium asked the hard questions
This year’s Providence Symposium, annually put on by the Providence Preservation Society, dug deep into what preservation really means to our city today. As the city struggles with what to do with our white elephants (see, the Superman Building, the Cranston Street Armory, and the Southwest Pavilion), it is clear that simply “saving” our historic landmarks can no longer be our only indicator of preservation success.
Preservation, of course, serves as a fundamental component of a good city. At its best, preservation is wide ranging, dynamic, accessible and compelling. And it’s a valuable tool for supporting the social fabric and cultural identity of our neighborhoods here in Providence. Providence is appreciated by many for the fact that the history behind our landmark places matters to our city.
But looking forward our preservation efforts will need to take on a more provocative and progressive role than ever before. As our little city grows now, our prerogative should be one of mindfulness and a willingness to redefine WHO is a preservationist, and what it really means to preserve. We need to ask a lot more “why’s” than ever before.
The city needs to re-conceptualize our historic places so as to ensure that places saved fulfill real needs within the community. We should prioritize identifying why places matter and how they can be used to contribute to and promote quality of life for our residents. In order to do this, we will need to constantly re-examine and expand what preservation means from all the perspectives of those coming to the table.
I am looking forward to being a part of the work ahead.