The Project for Public Spaces, in New York City, has sent out an alert regarding a new public program: “U.S. Government Announces Campaign to Save Historically Bad Public Spaces.” At first I thought this was just another silly April Fool’s Day joke, but then I read further and I realized that the program already exists. Preserving such important reflections of our era in public places such as the classically sterile Empire State Plaza in Albany, not to mention Boston City Hall and its crucially forlorn and windswept plaza, is already the focus of federally financed preservationist policy. As one top official explained to the reporter from PPS:
“The way that these plazas inhibit the natural human instinct to connect with others is a unique part of our cultural heritage, and it is as worthy of preservation as the Petroglyphs on Indian God Rock or Jefferson’s home at Monticello,” said National Register program manager Paul Loether. “We need to guarantee that these places not be experienced in the way they were intended to not be experienced.”
What is this but an expression of the longstanding initiative throughout the preservation establishment, starting on top at the National Trust, to preserve aging examples of authentic midcentury modernism that are at risk? Why do so many U.S. communities want to demolish their stock of buildings by Paul Rudolph? Preserving history, the bad and the ugly no less (if not more) than the good, requires tight regulation of out-of-control public sensibilities that advantage beauty and civitas over ugliness and uselessness on the basis of personal taste and vague aesthetic and communitarian concepts in the subconscious (and uneducated) public mind.
A tip of the hat to the Project for Public Spaces for bringing attention to an important national blind spot on this important national holiday.