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The Problem of Ownership

This Tuesday I had the wonderful experience of hearing about Patrick Grossi’s work for the Preservation Alliance for Greater Philadelphia. He discussed the process of preservation work and it turns out that this work deals much more with zoning and cooperation with ownership than I first anticipated. Some of the general struggles of preservation for Philadelphia includes the lack of a citywide survey, a ten year tax abatement for new buildings, and general misconceptions of the preservation process. Grossi does not seem to be the type of person that is difficult to work with, instead he attempts to find a middle of the line approach when it comes to developers and those that wish to save all historic buildings. This is important because the people that often want to save the building are not those that own the building.

One of the ways to find a balance by promoting adaptive reuse. This process involves using buildings in new and creative ways that were not originally intended. One of the most commonly seen examples that comes to mind is coffee shops that used to be a warehouse or light manufacturing. This is one way to preserve the physical building and also make sure that it remains profitable. This also allows for the discussion of how consumerism and contemporary culture can shape our vision of the past. History seems to become hip once you place a latte near it. This of course is troubling to those that feel that history must be preserved exactly the way it was. This is exact recreation of the past is something that seems to be almost impossible.

One of the challenges that Grossi deals with is what to do with buildings that cannot be safely saved. He mentioned one of his prior projects for Temple entitled, “Funeral for a Home.” This project tracked this history of the individuals that lived in the home and gave a commemorative service for the home upon its demolition. This project shows the power of participatory history. Individuals from the neighborhood were highly involved in this neighborhood because many of them were born and lived their whole lives on Melon Street. This funeral showed the power of memory and commemoration and reminded everyone that homes are torn down everyday but that the memories of those places remain forever.