Pennsylvania Historic Preservation

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Wild Whippersnappers or Heritage Heroes? The [not always] Young Preservationist Movement

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From Pittsburgh to Philly and in between, the Young Preservationist movement is changing the way we approach historic resources, leaving many of us scratching our heads as to what the real deal is.

Polling members of the Young Preservation Movements on “what word would you use to describe a Young Preservationist?” resulted in some fascinating answers like Driven, Active Urbanists, Innovative, and Holistically Concerned. However, a more in-depth discussion was needed to find out what these creative, action-oriented groups are all about, and what makes them unique.

These are just some of the ways Young Preservationists describe themselves.

These are just some of the ways Young Preservationists describe themselves.

I had the privilege to catch up with the commonwealth’s two largest Young Preservationist groups and their leaders, Lynn Alpert and Molly Lester, Co-chairs of the Young Friends of the Preservation Alliance in Philadelphia and Michael Panzitta, Vice-Chair of the Young Preservationists Association of Pittsburgh to talk further about how they see the movement.

Tell me a little bit about your organization…

Lynn and Molly, Young Friends of the Preservation Alliance:

The Young Friends is a group that has existed in different forms for many years. This is the first iteration of the Young friends that has survived for several years, and is continuing to grow and become stronger, which is indicative of the Young Preservationist Movement. We thought about going other ways, but decided to be specifically a support group for the Preservation Alliance for Greater Philadelphia to boost their capacity and involve younger members, focusing on a mix of advocacy, events, and social functions.

Mike, Young Preservationists Association of Pittsburgh:

We’re a group of people who are well-versed with and excited about our city and its heritage and want to preserve the parts of the built environment that have enriched our neighborhoods and told the story of the communities that have made Pittsburgh the great, livable city it is today. We want all people in the city to have a chance to preserve what makes them love their neighborhoods, and we organize meetups and events to discuss what the community wants to see out of these places while talking with the government and foundations in Pittsburgh to push to get these plans enacted.

What do you wish others knew about Young Preservationists?

Lynn and Molly, Young Friends of the Preservation Alliance:

Becoming a Young Preservationist is a matter of self-selection. We’ve veered away from defining any age related restrictions. [Also, don’t] forget that the organizers of these groups are often volunteers, have other jobs, and [are] just starting out in life, so there is always a capacity issue.  Others are glad to see energy but there is not always endless energy.

Mike, Young Preservationists Association of Pittsburgh:

We constantly get questions about age limits just because we have the word “young” in our name. But we want people of all ages, from elementary school to post-retirement to get involved in the young preservationist movement! In my mind, YP groups are called young to distinguish our more grassroots, guerrilla-style approach to advocacy, not because there’s a set-in-stone age limit!

YPA 'heartbombing' the buildings they love for Valentine's Day. Photo used by permission from Michael Panzitta.

YPA ‘heartbombing’ the buildings they love for Valentine’s Day. Photo used by permission from Michael Panzitta.

What does the young preservation movement have to offer Historic Preservation as a whole?

Lynn and Molly, Young Friends of the Preservation Alliance:

It’s a new voice and perspective which is reaching a new and different sub-group of people than the traditional movement. It attracts those that don’t identify as “preservationists” like urban explorers or those who enjoy architectural Instagrams.

Mike, Young Preservationists Association of Pittsburgh:

I think that young preservationists are enriching the landscape of Historic Preservation in a couple of major (and important) ways. First off, all of the people I know in YP groups – and this applies throughout the region – are involved in multiple advocacy organizations, whether they’re political, social, etc., and this leads to us seeing preservation from a very holistic perspective. Finally, YP groups tend to have a very low barrier to entry, so anyone can hear about an event we’re having and immediately be able to make an impact.

 What are your plans for the future as an organization?

Lynn and Molly, Young Friends of the Preservation Alliance:

As we move forward we are looking at how to combine our separate avenues of involvement to a more combination approach. For example, having more events that are both educational and a crowd pleaser, or function as advocacy and networking, and focusing on a more cohesive output. We would also like to expand our reach in terms of geography, into the greater area of Philadelphia.

Young Friends of the Preservation Alliance touring the Sharswood neighborhood of Philadelphia. Used with Permission from Lynn Alpert.

Young Friends of the Preservation Alliance touring the Sharswood neighborhood of Philadelphia. Used with Permission from Lynn Alpert.

Mike, Young Preservationists Association of Pittsburgh:

As Pittsburgh transitions from its desperation to artificially “renew” following the collapse of the steel industry into a city where people are moving into and making these historic urban neighborhoods their homes, we are beginning to change to more of a preventative role, where neighborhood members are coming to us looking for advice on how to be proactive about saving places rather than having to desperately pull something together to stop the wrecking balls.

Excited about what you read and want to learn more and get involved?

On September 24-25, the Young Friends are organizing a weekend of service projects to help prep Historic Cliveden for its annual Battle of Germantown festival.

The Young Preservationist Association of Pittsburgh’s biggest event of the year is coming up Oct 20…their Top Ten Preservation Opportunities Party where they will unveil this year’s list, which will direct their advocacy for the next year.  YPA is also still accepting nominations for this year’s list and if anyone has places anywhere in southwest PA (not just PGH proper) fill out the nomination form and send it their way.

More information on these groups, check out their websites, http://www.preservationalliance.com/what-we-do/yfpa/ and http://www.youngpreservationists.org/ or by find them on Facebook @yfpaphilly, @youngpreservationists  or Instagram @yfpaphilly, @ypa_pgh.

 

About the Author:

Julia Chain is the Program Director at Preservation Pennsylvania, the statewide historic preservation non-profit, and a self-proclaimed Young Preservationist. Julia is also pursuing a Master’s in American Studies from Penn State. In her free time, Julia enjoys stalking abandoned farmhouses and adventuring with her horse, dog, and family.

Author: Guest Contributor

The Pennsylvania Historic Preservation Office occassionally asks our partners to share their news, successes, challenges, and perspectives on historic preservation matters in Pennsylvania.

One Comment

  1. Yoo-hoo — to the student “whippersnappers” out there — wanted to let you know that Preservation Pennsylvania offers FREE membership to students. More info on the Membership page of our website. http://preservationpa.org/page.asp?id=32

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