As the only preservation organization in the nation to reach out specifically to young people, Pittsburgh's Young Preservationists Association has a chance to show its stuff -- and Pittsburgh's -- at a national preservation conference in town this week. In a city that is always looking for ways to keep its younger set, YPA founder and director Dan Holland wants people to see that Pittsburgh has an important history and the potential for a future worth sticking around to experience.
The National Trust for Historic Preservation's annual conference, "Making Preservation Work!" began here on Oct. 31 and runs through Nov. 5. YPA began its involvement by hosting a gathering for attendees at Future Tenant, Downtown's slightly gritty storefront-turned-gallery.
"It isn't a polished space," says Holland. "It highlights what we're trying to promote: the preservation and reuse of historic buildings." He believes YPA's philosophy of combining preservation with community development sets the group apart from other preservation groups.
Holland, now 37, formed YPA in 2002. Earlier that year he had witnessed the demolition of Ellis Hotel in the Hill District -- a hotel open to African Americans in the Jim Crow era.
"To see it demolished without any protest said to me that we need to do a better job of reaching out to people of all ages," he says. He was disturbed that, in his early 30s, he was typically the youngest person at preservation meetings. Today's YPA member is 30, on average, although among its 200 members are people from age 18 to more than 70.
The last time Pittsburgh hosted the NTHP conference, in 1960, Pittsburgh's current preservationist groups did not exist, and the city was in the midst of tearing down the Lower Hill District to construct the Civic (now Mellon) Arena, which was completed in 1961. The YPA has made the preservation of African-American historical sites one of its focuses, but Holland still sees the city making the same kinds of mistakes in the name of urban renewal.
"We've ignored the will of the people," he says. "The stadiums are a good example of this: large projects that are costly and still not paid for." He is also concerned about what will be done with Market Square, which he says "is truly the heart of our city, and it's woefully underused."
On the other hand, neighborhood groups have made great strides in preserving the history of areas like East Liberty, Bloomfield and the South Side. These kinds of community-based movements are part of what make Pittsburgh a "laboratory for preservation," and a fitting place for the NTHP conference, Holland says.
The YPA helped prepare for the national conference throughout the past year by giving NTHP members bicycle tours of neighborhoods and back streets. Holland hopes the conference will give young people valuable exposure to a variety of local and national preservation groups. These organizations, he says, "need to think about and listen to the next generation, because we have some good ideas."
In CP's Election Guide coverage of the 42nd District House race (Oct. 25), Republican candidate Mark Harris' alma mater was incorrect; it is The George Washington University. Also, Harris' opponent in the May primary, Tom Stevenson, is finishing his fifth term. We regret the errors.