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Tuesday, January 01, 2013

No More &^%$# TCPs!

Guest post by George A. Cluster

The National Park Service (NPS), thank goodness, is finally re-thinking its “National Register Bulletin 38,” and inviting people to comment on “traditional cultural properties” and their eligibility for the National Register of Historic Places. Well, here’s my comment, NPS: get rid of them! Jettison the whole idea!

The idea of recognizing TCPs is wrong, inconsistent with the basic principles on which the National Register is based. Forcing federal agencies to think about such places, and worse yet to consider PROTECTING them, just confuses government employees and distracts them from their real work – writing incomprehensible guidelines, enforcing obscure standards, patting each other on the back, winning awards, preparing for retirement.

The trouble with TCPs is that they’re important only to PEOPLE. Just plain people, with no special social status or government position whatever. Oh sure, some of them are important to a LOT of people, but in most cases they’re still just ORDINARY people, in ordinary communities. And Bulletin 38 doesn't even demand that a lot of people care about a place, or that the people be parts of any elite.  Indian tribes and Native Hawaiians have especially beaten their drums about TCPs, which just shows you how far outside mainstream American thinking the whole idea is.

Look, it should be obvious that the National Register is not designed to recognize places important to ordinary people. The whole idea of the Register is to recognize places important to the SECRETARY OF THE INTERIOR, based on the judgment of his PROFESSIONAL STAFF – archaeologists, historians, and architectural historians, and of the PROFESSIONALS in the State Historic Preservation Offices (SHPOs). That’s why it’s the SECRETARY who maintains the Register, and sets standards for listing places on it. That’s why you have to hire PROFESSIONALS to prepare the paperwork to nominate places to it. This is important: the Register makes WORK for these professionals, who might otherwise go unemployed, living under (historic) bridges! Keeping elites and professionals comfortable is the PURPOSE of the Register!

Come on, people, this isn’t rocket science. NPS shouldn’t have to concern itself with the “cultural” interests of ordinary people, in ordinary communities – who probably don’t really have any culture anyhow. NPS and the SHPOs and the preservation professionals in the federal agencies and consulting firms ought to get back to their real work – writing great thick historic context studies, discussing how many pony truss bridges belong on the National Register or how deep an archaeological site needs to be to reach eligibility under Criterion D, and carefully crafting Memoranda of Agreement to file and forget.

Let’s start the new year right by getting back to first principles: historic preservation is about the values of the ELITE, the EDUCATED, the CREDENTIALED, and most especially those residing in NPS and the SHPOs. And it’s about making sure that we elite, educated, credentialed professionals – in government and in the consulting firms -- stay employed and make it safely into secure, untroubled retirement when our times come.

This shouldn’t be a hard call for NPS at all. What to do with TCPs? Forget about them!

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