Essay on Historic Preservation and Imagined West by J.M. Morley

The author provides a brief historic overview of each location to give the audience insight into the real history of each location. She reveals the real life of people of Albuquerque, Denver and Seattle in the community she studied. However, when she compares the landscape and architecture of the past and the present, she uncovers that many buildings and issues have preserved their original image but, Denver, for instance has undergone consistent reconstruction to meet the ”˜desired’ image of its past, which is different from the original, authentic past of the city and the location.

At the same time, it is not only the architecture of communities that have changed since the past but also the identity of local communities. The author argues that it is due to the historic preservation policy, the local population has changed its identity as was the case of Old Town Albuquerque, for instance. Therefore, the author argues that the historic preservation policy is not very effective in terms of the preservation of the past and authenticity of communities.

In fact, in the course of her study, Morley uncovers the growing contradiction between the past history of locations she researched and the preservation attempts of the authorities, which were often made at cost of minorities. The author points out that the historic development and historic preservation may often differ, while the authorities just attempt to accelerate the local business development through historic preservation. The historic preservation policy in three cities studied by the author is all business-like that means that the authorities preserve the past just because they want to stimulate the economic growth in the communities, while the preservation of the authenticity and historic truth is of little, if any importance for them. As a result, virtually all three cities studied by the author fail to preserve their historical authenticity in the five locations.

Moreover, Morley also exposes ironies that have arouse in the course of the development of historic preservation policies, if the latter came into conflict with the actual past of locations she studied in her book. For instance, Old Town Albuquerque’s celebration of Hispanic heritage, even though Hispanic residents were displaced during the renovation was one of such ironies Morley points out in her analysis to stress the striking difference between the historic past and the historic preservation efforts and implications. This means that the changes that have already occurred to Albuquerque’s Old Town are very significant. More important, these changes reveal the shift in the identity of the local population. To put it more precisely, the local population tends to associate their past with Hispanic conquistadors, while Hispanic population was actually expelled from the location in the time of renovation. Therefore, the historic preservation has failed to preserve the true history of the past of Old Town Albuquerque for the public. Instead, it is only historians, who are fully aware of the past, while the seeming authenticity of Old Town is, to a significant extent artificial, while the primary concern of the authorities is to make the atmosphere not realistic or historically truthful but tourist-attractive. Hence, the primary concern of the authorities is not the preservation of the past history but the realization of new business opportunities through the accelerated development of tourist industry in the area, where some signs of historic heritage have been preserved.

Similarly, Larimer Square’s hiding of its actual skid-row past beneath a veneer of more tourist-friendly history in Denver is another example of the adaptation of the past history to economic needs of the present through the historic preservation policy. However, in contrast to Albuquerque, where Old Town has preserved key features of architecture that existed in the past, Denver’s Larimer Square has failed to preserve absolutely authentic architecture. Instead, the authorities focused on the preservation of the part that could bring maximum positive economic effects for the local community. Therefore, they ignored the original past and just preserve that part that was beneficial for the city’s economy. Remarkably, the historic preservation policy in Albuquerque and Denver differ but their goal remains virtually identical. At this point, it is important to place emphasis on the fact that the historic preservation policy in Denver also lead to the change of the identity of the local community because the local population fails to perceive the past of the city in the wrong way, shifting emphasis from the original true development of the city and its history and culture. In fact, the author points out that the historic heritage is often turns into a business opportunity which local authorities attempt to use to the full extent.

Nevertheless, the historic preservation gives communities the sense of belongingness and serves as the connective between the past and the present of communities inhabiting the locations which have been started by Morley. In other words, the author argues that the historic heritage policy can influence the identity of community members living in locations which undergo the impact of the historic preservation policy. However, the author points out that such policy cannot be irresponsible and business-oriented. Instead, the preservation of historic heritage is essential to preserve the historic truth but not to invent the new history and, thus, to shape the new identity of local communities. In such a way, the book helps to understand pitfalls of the contemporary historic preservation policy and its possible effects on the identity of community members living in locations protected by historic preservation policy.

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