A Week in New York

By Katie Rispoli, Executive Director

Earlier this month I had the privilege to travel to New York and meet with leaders from the National Trust for Historic Preservation. As a field that has traditionally harbored the history of wealthy, white Americans and built a business model around operating not-for-profit historic house museums, historic preservation is at an impasse. 

Heading into the twenty-first century, the field in the United States needs to become more diverse and focus its presence on building stories around the histories of all Americans of all backgrounds. Many residents and city staff have common misconceptions when they hear "the P word" and think Preservation means "not being able to change your doorknobs" or turning buildings into museums.

Moving forward, there's little desire to preserve things in amber. Rather, the field is moving towards embracing a continuum and letting historic sites tell stories by keeping them relevant. Projects like the Southern Pacific Railroad Depot relocation in Long Beach present this concept by taking a defunct historic place and once again giving it a use that relates to the surrounding community's present needs. 

The conference was held at Kykuit, the John D. Rockefeller estate in Tarrytown, New York. The estate is owned by the National Trust and managed by the Rockefeller Brothers Fund. It was converted to the Pocantico Conference Center in 1994, and visiting it is like a dream. Sitting around the octagonal conference table with senior staff from the National Trust and a combination of developers, writers, journalists, small business owners, and activists opened my eyes to so many new perspectives. 

Among the many things we touched on, key elements that drew me in the most were:

  • A discussion about the word "Preservation." What this word means to people with varying perspectives. It's not something I use to describe our work here at We Are the Next, though to many it's the easiest way to categorize what we do.
  • The evolution of Historic Preservation as a practice. In the 1960s when the National Historic Preservation Act was passed, the field was still finding its footing with an American audience. It's incredible to reflect on what has been accomplished in the last fifty years and recognize the progress we have made towards respecting heritage and diversity in this country.
  • The tactics of our advocates: Why do preservationists fight with city governments? If anything, preservation groups should be an additional network of support for our local planning departments. These city employees often share our vision of making cities stronger, but they need help to find solutions for historic places.
  • Who is participating in the conversation regarding the use of our historic places? If only educated professionals are invited to the table to contribute, key perspectives are being left behind. We should all work to provide as many opportunities as possible for all of our supporters to share their vision for our future.

In addition to my time at the center, I was fortunate enough to be able to take a few days and explore the city. Below is a photo stream of all of the incredible places I visited and people I saw and met while visiting Manhattan, Brooklyn, and Tarrytown in New York.

In summary, I want to create a challenge for myself and our team here at We Are the Next to enter our second fiscal year with a renewed motivation. This year, we will use the resources and support we've gained to build community pride among more Angelinos. We will create more opportunities for young people to get practical experience. We will bring more people to the table to contribute their ideas and perspectives so that our involvement (and your community) is strong as it can be.

Katie RispoliComment