Saturday, June 5, 2010

A Preservation Epidemic

By Jason Yots

In his 2000 bestseller, The Tipping Point (Back Bay Books), Malcolm Gladwell dissects the catalysts for epidemics. Whether it's a Baltimore syphilis epidemic born of rampant drug use or a Hush Puppy craze originating with NYC hipsters, epidemics have triggers that stoke their simmering potential to a point of explosion. To their Tipping Point.

Gladwell explains that many factors must converge to trip an epidemic. One such factor is the emergence of an influential "few", who lead the rest of us into an epidemic. This is Gladwell's first rule of epidemics - The Law of the Few. In the case of the Hush Puppies epidemic of the mid-1990s, the "few" were Lower East Side punks who began wearing the shoes in irony, and somehow made them the coolest accessory in America.

The Tipping Point set me to thinking about how we might create an epidemic for historic preservation. I mean, if a handful of bored, edgy kids can take dorky shoes and make them into the definition of "cool", can't we infuse in historic preservation its own version of contagious coolness?

For starters, we need our Few to emerge, and we need it to happen now. Today. The National Trust for Historic Preservation has done an admirable job promoting preservation at a national level, but epidemics don't start at that elevation. They germinate locally, organically. And they often are sparked by an unlikely "few", who are more likely to be risk-taking anti-heroes than established mainstreamers. In the shadow of the National Trust's 2011 convention in Buffalo, we have a opportunity to test Gladwell's Tipping Point. But to do so, we'll need our anti-heroes to step up and lead us from the established mainstream.

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