Director's chair: Carl Spector, Commissioner of the Environment

Although many people are surprised to find the City of Boston’s historic preservation program embedded in the Environment Department, there are many connections between that program and concerns more commonly labeled “environmental.”

To start, many processes are similar. Anyone who has filed an application with the Landmarks Commission would have no problem understanding how the Conservation Commission, charged with protecting wetlands, or the Air Pollution Control Commission handles one of its applications, from initial consultation through to a public hearing. One would encounter the same dedicated, knowledgeable staff, the same attention to public and private interests within a rigorous regulatory framework, the same opportunity for open discussion and consideration of possibilities.

More important, however, is the common ethos that lies behind both historic preservation and environmental protection. This ethos asks that we see our lives, both individually and as a community, comprehensively, because we live in a world that we affect and that affects us. This world of time — past, present, and future — is a product of human endeavors (culture) and of processes that have little to do with us (nature, so called). This ethos suggests that we lead our best lives when we recognize the value of this world and the web of causality that imbues it.

An all-too-common misconception asserts that the work to protect Boston’s cultural and natural heritage looks only backwards or strives to preserve some inequitable status quo. In fact, our work is fundamentally about the future. Last year, for example, Mayor Walsh released Boston’s first Zero Waste Plan, a project that will make a growing Boston cleaner, healthier, and more prosperous. Of its three main principles, two are reuse and recycle. So it is with historic preservation. By maintaining what is valuable of our cultural heritage, repurposing it without erasing its history, clarifying its past and imagining its future, the growing and changing Boston community becomes stronger, more vibrant, and more connected. 

As we all cope with the COVID-19 emergency, that sense of community is what pulls us through together. 

Contact Department: Landmarks Commission

Publish Date: Wed, 05/13/2020 – 4:40pm