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 !  Historic Preservation

Free Markets, Free Speech, and a Free Lunch
or Why I Live in an Historic Neighborhood


David E. Booker


         First of all, let's be clear about one thing: There is no such thing as free markets. Never were; never will be. While some things may be priceless, in a capitalistic-based economy, there is no such thing as a free market. Free is antithetical to capitalism. It's a misnomer, like life insurance, which only pays off once you are dead.

         There is also no such thing as free speech. Every word you utter, every word you write has a price to it. It also has a value, particularly when selecting the right word. Or, as Mark Twain put it, "The difference between the right word and the almost right word is the difference between lightning and lightning bug." As a person who has written for newspapers, magazines, and industry, if nothing else, my over twenty years of experience has taught me that.

         And as my parents taught me long ago, there is no such thing as a free lunch. There is always a cost somewhere involved. You just have to decide if it's a cost you want to pay. To that extent, some would argue that historic preservation is not worth the cost. I, however, disagree. None of us, in reality, owns our homes or land. At best, we are long-time stewards, and with that stewardship come rights and responsibilities. Rights are what we take from the community whole and responsibilities are what we give back to that whole so that the equation can continue on to the next generation and the generation after that.

         Historic preservation is a way of exercising a part of that responsibility. Old buildings are more than pieces of lumber or mortar or brick or glass. They are a gift, a whisper, a word, the verse of a song we sing to each other as Americans. Sometimes that verse is a reminder of our uglier side, such as preserved slave cabin. Sometimes that verse is grandiose, such as the Biltmore Mansion. More often that verse is about people who lived and work and died without thinking they were part of a song. Greece has the Parthenon and other temples erected to mythological gods. Egypt has its Pyramids where pharaohs who thought they were gods were buried in celestial splendor. Europe has its castles where kings who believed they were divine right rulers lived and died and were often buried. America has no such places because we believe that every man and woman has a place of honor in what we call democracy, and if we believe that, why shouldn't we preserve some of those places where those who have gone before us have lived and worked, loved and died? Are they not worthy to be remembered, even if we do not know their names?

         I am reminded of a Pygmy legend that goes something like this: One day a young boy wandered into the jungle and came across a bird. The bird was singing the most wonderful song the boy had ever heard. The young boy took the bird home and begged his father to let him keep it. The father agreed. But then one day the father decided he had had enough, and while the boy was away he killed the bird. And, the story goes, with the bird he killed the song, and with the song he killed his life.

         Free markets aren't, free speech isn't, and there's no such thing as a free lunch. And for every action there is an opposite and equal reaction. That is part of the equation of rights and responsibilities. The rights we have today are here because of the responsibilities of those who have gone before us. I see nothing wrong in preserving some of the structures they have left us. It is a way of exercising our responsibilities. It is a way of honoring those who have come before us. It is a way of continuing the song.

         "Much is required from those to whom much is given, and much more will be required from those to whom much more is given." Luke 12: 35-48


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History is not something found only in textbooks or museums. It is a process that can help guide us from the past into the future. But often, you have to take time to listen, watch, and learn.

David E. Booker struggles to learn about web site building, writing, and fatherhood. He lives in a 100-year-old house where pieces of congealed coal dust can be heard caroming through the whole-house vacuum hose as they are sucked up from between the slats in the heart pine floor.
To learn a little more about him, go to David E. Booker >>

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