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The New Preservation

By Executive Director Heidi Swank

Portrait of Rethos Executive Director Heidi Swank in the Landmark Center lobby

There has never been a better time to be the executive director of Rethos. The people here are working hard, moving fast, and building the New Preservation every day.

New programs like Heritage Tourism are taking root. Established programs like Minnesota Main Streets, Historic Rehab Loans, Homeowner Education, Rethos Policy Institute, and our work around inclusion and equity continue to expand and strengthen. Together we are doing nothing less than changing the very definition of historic preservation. Rethos practices the New Preservation.

What is the New Preservation?

Traditionally historic preservation has been associated with efforts to capture a building or a place, arrest its ongoing evolution, and prevent new uses or modern interpretations of how it can serve today’s needs. That model doesn’t work and we need to move forward.

Historic preservation needs to be every bit as much about the future as it is about the past. We save buildings and places not for the structures themselves, but for their importance to us. We save them to tell our stories, to remind us of our histories, and to serve as cultural touchstones. But we also save buildings and places so they can be transformed into useful and beneficial tools to meet the needs of today’s communities, and those of tomorrow. That’s the New Preservation.

We recycle aluminum cans, glass bottles, and plastic containers to help save the planet, reduce waste, and keep our landfills from overflowing. Yet over half of the contents of the average landfill are comprised of construction or demolition waste. Why don’t we recycle buildings, too? The New Preservation emphasizes building reuse wherever possible, and building deconstruction when saving the structure isn’t feasible. Less waste, more embodied energy (the materials, transportation, and effort expended in the original construction) saved and reused.

My team, my board, and my amazing volunteers all work together to advance the New Preservation. I invite you to join us, add your passion, and move forward while preserving old buildings.


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