PastForward: Places, voices, and livability

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Photo credit: David Keith Photography

This past fall in Houston, the National Trust for Historic Preservation gathered for its annual conference, PastForward. One of the key features of the conference is a series of marquee presentations called TrustLive. TrustLive presentations often feature a single speaker followed by a short panel discussion on a topic relevant to today’s preservation movement. Each panel is designed to push attendees to look beyond the day-to-day work of the field by exploring and engaging with new voices and innovative projects outside the standard preservation world.

The TrustLive presentations at the Houston conference featured incredible panelists whose conversations pushed attendees to examine how we connect to our cities and other places, and, more importantly, how we can tell the full American story through preservation. The presentations were divided into three categories—preservationVOICES, preservationPLACES, and preservationLIVABILITY—which indicated the primary focus of each discussion.


All of our keynotes encouraged dialogue, but John Valadez, a documentary filmmaker, received a standing ovation during the preservationVOICES session after hitting an emotional nerve with the audience. Valadez talked about growing up Mexican American and reminded us that we “preserve the stories to teach us what it is to live a life well-lived and what it is to live a life squandered.”

Built on conversations begun at PastForward 2015, the preservationVOICES discussion examined the role historic places play in racial healing and social and environmental justice. The session specifically explored how historic places can help us uncover and tell the full American story. In addition to John Valadez, the panel discussion included Afeefa Syeed, the founder and head of school at Reston, Virginia’s Al Fatih Academy, attorney Teresa Leger de Fernandez of Leger Law & Strategy in Santa Fe, New Mexico, and Manuelito Wheeler, director of the Navajo Nation Museum in Window Rock, Arizona.


This TrustLive session examined activating historic places as a strategy to better teach history, tell stories, and promote reconciliation and healing. The session began with comments by Nina Simon, executive director of the Santa Cruz Museum of Art & History. She was later joined for the panel discussion by Annie Polland, senior vice president for programs and education at the Lower East Tenement Museum, Sean Kelley, senior vice president and director of interpretation at Eastern State Penitentiary Historic Site, and Justin Albert, the director of the National Trust for Wales.


The preservationLIVABILITY session explored the art, advocacy, and storytelling behind remaking cities, with a focus on how historic preservation can play a starring role in the rebirth of urban areas through reinvestment and reuse of existing places. The session emphasized that preservation can play a greater role in creating livable, vibrant, equitable, and creative communities.

This TrustLive featured Rick Lowe, community activist and founder of Project Row Houses in Houston, Mike Powe, director of research at the National Trust’s Preservation Green Lab, and Claudia Guerra, a cultural historian in the city of San Antonio’s Office of Historic Preservation.

Finally, you can also listen to National Trust President and CEO Stephanie Meeks’ keynote talk on the past and future city, as well as hear Kinder Institute for Urban Research founding director Stephen Klineberg describe his groundbreaking work tracking the remarkable changes in the demographic patterns, economic outlooks, experiences, and beliefs of Houston residents.

All three sessions are available for viewing on the National Trust’s YouTube channel. This fall PastForward heads to Chicago, where art, advocacy, and innovation are the hallmarks of preservation. Learn more about PastForward 2017, November 14-17, and sign up for updates here.

~ Priya Chhaya is manager for online content and products at the National Trust for Historic Preservation.

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