Successful tactical urbanism projects around the U.S. — from parklets to pop-up shops — show that sometimes all it takes to bring a community together is a simple, accessible project. That’s why this month, the National Trust for Historic Preservation is once again encouraging people in neighborhoods around the country to celebrate their connections to place through the organization’s “This Place Matters” campaign. (May is Preservation Month.)
“‘This Place Matters’ started in 2008 as a way for people to shine a spotlight on the historic places that played a role in their lives. Basically, it’s like crowdsourcing people’s personal connections to the built environment,” says Jason Clement, director of community outreach at the National Trust. “And the best part — there are zero rules. These can be places that are large or small, nationally significant or personally priceless, historic or maybe just old. They just have to mean something to you.”
The project is simple: Visit the Saving Places website to download and print a sign. Take photos with the sign at the places that matter most to you, and share the photos with others online with the hashtag #ThisPlaceMatters.
The virtual preservation project offers people opportunities to add their personal narratives to the history of places that are meaningful to them, whether those places are community churches, elementary schools, a barn on an old family farm or the old corner store where kids would gather after school to buy sticks of gum.
“To date, thousands of photos have been snapped and shared. But beyond all the smiling faces, what I find most endearing is how three simple words, ‘This Places Matters,’ have become ubiquitous in preservation, often serving as a rallying cry for communities when a beloved place is threatened,” says Clement, who has worked with the National Trust for six years. “People really connect with it.”
The project has a very DIY feel to it and has no long-term political or high-cost agenda, yet it encourages people to reignite those connections to places that have and continue to be important to them. Clement says that “This Place Matters” will soon get an interactive web experience that allows users to explore places that matter across the country. There will also be “This Place Matters” toolkits available upon request so that preservation fans can take their photos to the next level. The full relaunch will happen in Fall 2015.
“What I love about this campaign is that it’s preservation through the eye of the beholder. Everyone has at least one place that makes their heart beat a little faster — a place where their own personal history happened,” says Clement. “And now, with a photo and a smile, they can tell the whole world a simple but powerful message: This place matters to me.”
In honor of Preservation Month and Next City’s 2015 Vanguard conference, going on in Reno this week, the National Trust will host a #ThisPlaceMatters-themed photo walk on Wednesday in downtown Reno. Vanguards will get a chance to turn their cameras, “or I guess more appropriately, their phones, on Reno,” says Clement. “We can’t wait to see what they discover.”
Every person out there has a place that means a lot to them, and “This Place Matters” provides a platform — adapted to our changing world of social media and selfie sticks — to preserve, remember and share that love of these places.
And as for a place that is near and dear to Clement, “Hands down, it’s the Houston Astrodome, a place the National Trust is currently working to save for future generations. But it’s not just about work,” he says. “The eighth Wonder of the World was an enormous part of my life growing up. My fondest memories of my dad were created there. It’s also where I learned the rules of football and heard George Strait play live. It’s an important place that has a gravitational pull on my heart — always has, and thanks to our efforts, always will.”
What places matter to you?