Most of the of the world does not embrace the term historic preservation. The preference is building and artifact conservation or, more broadly and appropriately, heritage conservation. Through a 2017 reorganization of our Cultural Resource Management and Protection Branch, the Fairfax County Park Authority adopted Heritage Conservation. This is not really a new direction. It is effectively what our Resource Management Division was already doing. Examples include the Resident Curator Program, Historic Site Volunteer Corps, continuing conservation projects, and strategies with our park colleagues in Planning & Development and Park Operations. However, the Heritage Conservation Branch renamed and rebranded itself in 2017 to better educate park visitors and to rejuvenate our historic buildings and cultural resource collections.
To preserve generally means to pause or understand a resource only from a certain point in time, effectively protecting it from change or evolution. The term pigeonholes historic structures because people who do not understand or embrace preservation are sometimes intimidated by it. Often this leads to wonderful, thoughtful intentions but also to little progress, deferred maintenance, and stalemates. In the case of the Park Authority, we have historic structures and cultural objects, however we are not unique in that we face limited funds and public scrutiny for the stewardship of our resources.
Heritage conservation is about managing change. It is planning based on the inherited culture and cultural artifacts of a place, structure or object. It means assessment, interpretation, conservation, documentation and, most certainly, strategic management. It considers the individuality and uniqueness of a place or a collections object. Our Heritage Conservation Branch, newly named in 2017, will follow a process that assures change happens in concert with a historic resource’s evolution whether it is a historic building or a museum collections item. We will research and identify its use over time, develop strategies, and make sound decisions based on established conservation standards and criteria. From time to time, folks will probably still call it preservation, and that’s okay. In the end, if our perspective is progressive, the Park Authority’s historic resources will benefit as will future generations.