Why old places matter

We were delighted to welcome Tom Mayes as a guest to the El Moore Lodge this week. Tom is a historic preservationist from Washington, D.C. and is visiting Detroit to speak at the annual Michigan Historic Preservation Network conference, taking place at Wayne State.


Tom’s talk was called “Why Old Places Matter: Community, Creativity, and Economics,” and is based on an extensive series of related blog posts he wrote between 2013 and 2015. Being fond of old places ourselves, we thought we’d share some of Tom’s thoughts on the subject.

We couldn’t agree more when he writes in his introductory post, “The notion that old places matter is not primarily about the past. It is about why old places matter to people today and for the future. It is about why old places are critical to people’s sense of who they are, to their capacity to find meaning in their lives, and to see a future.”

He continues:

I am an unabashed advocate for keeping, saving, and continuing to use old places. Immense and overwhelming economic and political forces cause the destruction of old places at an astonishing pace every minute of every day.  We see it in the loss of treasured places both large and small.  From the removal of a single, gnarled pear tree that has delighted us with its bloom in the spring and its fruit in the fall to the inexcusable demolition of public buildings such as schools and churches that give our communities their identity, we are steadily losing our old places. The loss is a soul-destroying severing of people from place, identity, and memory.

The rest of Tom’s series consists of posts that consider what old buildings mean to people by looking at them through a wide variety of different cultural lenses, including architecture, beauty, creativity, learning, memory, and individual identity. It’s a rich and wide-ranging collection, but we were particularly struck by the “sustainability” post, in which he says:

Keeping and using old places is one of the most environmentally-sound things a person or community can do—more than building or buying anything new that claims to be “green.” As Carl Elefante, of Quinn-Evans Architects, brilliantly said, “the greenest building is… one that is already built.” … In trying to envision a world that is more environmentally sustainable, I hope for a world where we are more appreciative of the communities, buildings and things that already exist, and that we continue to use them, so that we’re not constantly tearing buildings down and throwing things away.

Hear, hear. We’re grateful for Tom’s work advocating for historic buildings and for sharing this thoughtful series with us during his first visit to Detroit. We’re also happy to have been able to host him at the El Moore, an old place that we think matters a great deal to Detroit’s past, present, and future.

You can find all 15 posts in Tom’s “Why Old Places Matter” series here.