Historic Preservation and America in the World – Part 2

Author: Katlyn Cotton
Aug 09, 2008

Yesterday I wrote Part 1 of Historic Preservation and America in the World. That entry listed the first 10 of 20 reasons why it is important for historic preservation to be a key component of US foreign policy. Today’s blog lists reasons 11-20 and tomorrow I’ll discuss 10 ways to make that happen.

11. The adaptive reuse of historic buildings is fully compatible with participation in economic globalization, which is critical for stability and prosperity in most of the world.

12. Although neither the proponents nor the opponents of globalization recognize it, there is not one globalization, but two – economic globalization and cultural globalization. The first, while not without challenges, has measurable long term benefits; the second has short term negative social and political consequences, and long term negative economic consequences. The most vociferous opposition to globalization comes from those seeing and appropriately resisting cultural globalization. The adaptive reuse of historic buildings is one of the few strategies that simultaneously allows the beneficial participation in economic globalization, while mitigating the adverse impacts of cultural globalization.

13. Our having a policy encouraging and assisting historic preservation shows our respect for the local culture of each country.

14. There are aspects of other cultures that do not deserve our respect, rather warrant our reproach – the role of women in Saudi Arabia, the rule of law in Pakistan, freedom of worship in China, tolerance of diversity in India. But those cultural changes will not take place under the point of a gun, nor will they – however meritorious change may be – take place overnight. A strategy of our valuing local heritage resources, however, shows our respect for those cultures without condoning every aspect of them.

Medan, Sumatra, Indonesia

15. A historic preservation based policy is applicable anywhere and works equally well in Asia, Africa, or Latin America. 97% of the net world population growth in the next 20 years will be on those three continents.

16. Developing historic preservation as a key component of our international policy provides a useful vehicle for our learning about other cultures on an in-depth and sustained basis. The most vociferous cheerleader for American policies today would hardly claim we’re the most culturally aware nation on earth.


Muharraq, Bahrain

17. As we assist other countries in identifying, protecting, and enhancing their historic resources, we are at the same time aiding them in building sustainable and marketable local skills. The crafts and trades required for the conservation of heritage resources are not jobs that can be lost overnight to a cheaper overseas supplier. They are also labor intensive jobs without being make-work jobs.

18. In much of the world the major problem is the migration from the countryside to the already overcrowded urban areas. A combination of technological advances, and protection and enhancement of local resources could be a useful tool in helping to stem that tide. Again, Main Street successes in small towns here are an example of that strategy.

19. Most of the world has begun to recognize (although this is an area where environmentalists in the United States still have much to learn) that the protection and enhancement of heritage resources is a central component of a comprehensive sustainable development strategy. Our national policy should advance that perspective both at home and abroad.


Baku, Azerbaijan

20. Encouraging, assisting, and supporting each country’s identification, protection and enhancement of its historic resources is an excellent use of American “soft power”, a set of tools too rarely used in recent years. Defense Secretary Gates recognized this deficiency noting recently that more of US foreign policy needs to be on the diplomatic side and less on the military side.

Tomorrow — 10 ways to make historic preservation an important part of US foreign policy.

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