Monday, June 14, 2010

Preserve Houston's Culture, Not It's Buildings

With stricter controls on "historic" properties looming on the horizon, the Greater Houston Preservation Alliance (GHPA) will likely play a key role in the effort to strong-arm property owners. Interestingly, the GHPA's web site claims that:
GHPA promotes the preservation and appreciation of Houston's architectural and cultural historic resources through education, advocacy and committed action, thereby creating economic value, developing a stronger sense of community.
If this is true, then why is the organization's emphasis on bricks and mortar rather than ideas? If the GHPA really wants to preserve and appreciate Houston's culture, then why is it so adamant in attacking that culture? These are, of course, rhetorical questions, because GHPA has no understanding of Houston's culture, let alone a desire to preserve it.

As Ayn Rand wrote:
A nation’s culture is the sum of the intellectual achievements of individual men, which their fellow-citizens have accepted in whole or in part, and which have influenced the nation’s way of life. 
The same is true of a city--its culture is the sum of individual intellectual achievements that influence or dominate the city's way of life. What then, is Houston's culture?

In essentials, Houston's culture is defined by a relative respect for individual rights, including property rights. (I say relative because the city certainly engages in numerous violations of property rights. But in comparison to other large cities, Houston is a bastion of freedom in this regard.) The city's lack of zoning and similar restrictions makes Houston unique, politically, economically, and morally.

This is precisely what the GHPA and other preservationists do not want to preserve. They do not recognize the moral right of each individual to use his property as he chooses (so long as he respects the mutual rights of others). They seek to remove this freedom in the name of protecting old buildings.

I certainly appreciate history and historical sites. But my appreciation and interest has little to do with the physical aspects of a building. My appreciation and interest pertains to the intellectual achievements represented by those buildings. For example, the significance of Independence Hall is what was achieved there. Even when the architecture is the focus--such as Fallingwater--that architecture represents an intellectual achievement.

Such achievements are not what GHPA seeks to protect, for such achievements are the result of an unfettered mind. They are the result of intellectual freedom--the recognition of an individual's right to act according to his own judgment. The ideas advocated by the Founding Fathers and Frank Lloyd Wright did not enjoy universal support. They were not required to seek the approval of others prior to acting; they acted according to their own judgment.

More than other cities, Houston has continued to recognize this fundamental moral right. Individuals have been left relatively free to use their property as they choose. The result has been lower housing costs, a lower cost of doing business, and economic prosperity. This is Houston's culture, and this is what the preservationists are attacking.

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