2 June 2010: Balancing Past & Present

Cultural Dilemma: Balancing past, present

When the Board of Education pondered moving the middle school program to the high school campus, it was decided that, despite an already lengthy public process, holding one more meeting to garner input was important.

Consequently, one was held where anxious, concerned, inquisitive and often angry citizens spoke their minds.

Critical to that was the fact that the entire board and superintendent were on hand to listen, acknowledge and give feedback. Besides being an indicator of transparency, it was a matter of respect.

At the May 18 public meeting, only two of 12 non-staff members of the Cultural Resources Management Plan Steering Committee, Merinel Williams and Dick Woods, showed up to listen to the concerns voiced and questions raised by those who will be directly impacted by the CRM process.

Benito Mussolini is reputed to have said, “You can vote for whomever you want as long as I do the nominating.” That same principle can be applied to public boards. It’s been noted that every member, except one, of the CRMPSC is a Clear Creek property owner. But then so am I, as is likely you are, and we weren’t invited to join the committee.

Two types of people tend to populate such committees: representatives of interest groups and retirees with vested interests in the outcome — often, one and the same. The CRMPSC is a conglomeration of interest groups pretty much dedicated to the principle of historical preservation no matter the impacts and burdens it imposes.

I read the notes from that May 18 meeting on the county’s website to see if they captured what I heard firsthand: citizens fearful their property and their efforts will be encumbered with another layer of bureaucratic red tape. They don’t; you had to be there.

At the meeting, Ed Rapp of the Clear Creek Watershed forcefully proclaimed, “It’s not history because it is still going. These are mines waiting to be reopened.”

To Ed, it’s the property owner who should decide whether something on his/her property is historical. That’s an interesting philosophical debate, but as a lover of true and honest history, not the whited-out version spoon-fed to students via textbooks authorized by the Texas State Board of Education, in these cases I agree with Ed. Few if any are likely to rise to the level of Williamsburg, Monticello or the Hammil House.

It’s a strange process of how cultural resources are identified. First, anyone could’ve submitted information about any scratch in the ground to the Colorado data base. Second, getting information from the state can be likened to getting such from the TSA about why your name keeps popping up on the no-fly list: “We can’t tell you for national security reasons.”

Here, the conversation might go like this:

“If we reveal the identity of the cultural resource on your property, it will endanger the very thing we’re trying to protect.”

“Well, how would anyone know of or care about a historical site if they don’t know it exists in the first place? After all, isn’t maintaining such sites all about people showing up and speaking in reverent, whispered tones?”

“That’s true, but people can be more of a threat to a site than recreation and renewable energy.”

Picture the AFLAC duck shaking its head and beak and sputtering “Huh!” after listening to Yogi Berra’s inscrutable logic.

There are those who argue Georgetown adopted a model that sets preservation above economic growth and over the years solidified it through planning, codes and regulations. This is in contrast to the seemingly harmonious relationship in Idaho Springs between preservation and development.

As Rapp noted, “Georgetown was once a vibrant town. Now, walk down Sixth Street on any Friday evening and see what’s happening. It’s a dead (economically) community.” It might not be dead, but being on life-support is a fair analogy.

Sara Kaminski offered an insightful observation: “The big problem is perception: this is an area that needs to be protected.”

For those who experience the inanities of Historical Georgetown firsthand, it’s a matter of “This far and no farther.” The boundaries of the Georgetown-Silver Plume Historical District need not be expanded for the power within it — read, HGI — to be felt.

Rapp’s statement, “This study is another step down the primrose path,” reminded me of the Nathaniel Hawthorne short story “Rappacini’s Daughter” in which Dr. Rappacini creates a beautiful garden and environment for his daughter Beatrice. The problem is that it is untouchable to human hands, as is she. As a result, Beatrice is doomed to a life of isolation and loneliness.

A sustainable community is not one that just survives — it thrives. Thriving need not mean unrestrained development that bulldozes all else. Life can only regenerate when the old dies, and growth cannot happen if the past blocks the way.

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