Thursday, December 15, 2011

Is It History Because It Is Old?

A group is trying to get a particular strip mall in northern Virginia designated as a historic location to be placed under the protection of preservation laws. The argument is that history is not just about locations where important events happened or unique locations or notable architecture, but it is about keeping bits of everyday life as it was lived by people at that place at an other time. Post-war America saw a proliferation of shopping centers which became a staple of mid-20th century life. They may be aesthetically as utilitarian and unpleasing to the eye as anything ever built, but they are a part of the American story and we should seek to preserve it for posterity. The argument against is, "Really? A strip mall?"

No doubt part of the move is about zoning and development in the neighborhood, but the deeper question is an interesting one. Is the fact that something has been a regular part of the culture and is being phased out for whatever reason (good or bad) sufficient to consider typical examples as worth preserving? Does something have to be of particular interest to warrant historical status?