Monday, January 10, 2011

Preservation by Neglect is Sometimes the Right Answer

Since it has been 3 weeks since I have updated this blog, one could say that the title pertains to the blog itself.  The blog has definitely been neglected, but through that neglect, the previous postings have been preserved.  They have stayed here on this website, in exactly the same order that they were written in with the last posting being what you see when you first visit the blog.  As time goes on, the postings may look the same, but they've started to erode the site a bit.  You, the reader have come back to the blog, seen that it hasn't been updated in a while, and your interest in the site begins to wane.  Though since the blog is still here in cyberspace, you keep checking it, holding out hope that it will be updated soon.  In the world of the Internet, 3 weeks without a blog update is like the long-empty and neglected 100-year-old farmhouse whose windows are starting to sag, but that you keep hoping someone will come along and restore.

The reason for the lack of blog posts also relates to preservation by neglect.  I have 2 books coming out in the Spring, both of which required proofing, indexing, and other final details in December.  The first book is Giles County (Then and Now) from Arcadia Publishing and due out in March.  For this book, I located historic photographs of Giles County, Virginia then found the locations where the photographs were originally taken and made contemporary photographs with my trusty digital SLR camera.  This was a fun, and surprisingly difficult, project as some places are completely gone today or there are trees blocking the views.  Those places that were easiest to find, of course, were the ones that haven't changed much over time, a few because they had been neglected entirely, most because they had been maintained or restored throughout the years.   

The second book is Lost Communities of Virginia from Albemarle Books, distributed by the University of Virginia Press, and due out in May.  The book features 30 communities from throughout Virginia that were once thriving, but now show the traces of their once booming pasts.  The stories of the communities are told through historical information, contemporary photographs, community maps, and interviews with long-time residents.  To be considered for the book, communities had to retain buildings and some visible community center.  In many cases, one or more of the "downtown" buildings remain only due to preservation by neglect.  If these communities hadn't been so remote, their commercial districts would have been maintained by existing businesses, restored and reused for new purposes, or demolished to make room for the "newest and best".  Instead, one can imagine what it would have been like to get off the train at the depot or visit the company store on Saturday night with the coal miners and their families or to stay at the tavern while in town on courthouse business.  

While I certainly don't advocate preservation by neglect and prefer actual preservation, I'd rather the neglected buildings remain than be demolished.  Particularly in downtown areas, there is a constant reminder of the past, the building's important contribution to the streetscape, and what could be if the building were restored.  If you tear down every empty building, then what?  There are the environmental issues of hauling all that refuse to the landfill.  There's the question of what to do with all that empty space, especially in a small town. And, most importantly, there's a loss of character and a sense of place.  At least with the buildings remaining, there's hope.  Hope that they'll be restored.  Hope that downtown can be revitalized.  Hope that the community's uniqueness and pride can be retained. 

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