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2023 Arizona Historic Preservation Conference Theme:

“History in the Balance”


This year’s conference theme was selected to reflect the delicate dance we do as historic preservationists to manage what at times can feel like competing objectives. All preservation occurs within a context, whether it is urban planning and development, recreation, heritage education, wildfire fuels reduction, or infrastructure development. Choices need to be made and compromise is often the name of the game.


Often the scales seem to be weighted heavily against preservation. Our rapidly changing world demands innovation and advancement – drawing our attention invariably toward the future. However, the communities in which we live, work, and recreate embody our spirit, values, and – of course – our history. The framers of the National Historic Preservation Act knew this when they wrote the following line into its preamble: “the historical and cultural foundations of the Nation should be preserved as a living part of our community life and development in order to give a sense of orientation to the American people.” 


The sense of orientation provided by our historic places is what allows us to move confidently into the future, situating our decisions within a broader understanding of where we have been and where we would like to go.


Sometimes the places that we preserve are emblematic of the very values that we, as preservationists, challenge. This is especially the case with preservation of redeveloped properties and properties associated with urban renewal. This year’s conference location at the Tucson Convention Center (TCC), which includes the National Register-listed Alva Bustamante Torres Plaza, is very much reflective of a time in twentieth century history when cities across America invested significant public funds to redevelop their urban cores at the expense of destroying established neighborhoods of peoples of color. The Brutalist campus of the TCC stands as a testament to the forward-looking design of urban renewal’s architectural program, but also to the shameful legacy of the political and economic disenfranchisement which led to the displacement of Tucson’s Barrio. It is our hope that siting our conference in the crosshairs of urban renewal will not only remind us of what has been lost, but also encourage critical thinking about how to balance preservation of place with an honest reckoning of history.


Our theme of History in the Balance is intended to spark a broad range of conversations about the challenges preservationists face in the work we do. This theme lends itself to exploring such topics as:

  • Delivering 5G cellular service in a manner that preserves integrity of setting in historic districts

  • Enhancing critical park infrastructure to accommodate increasing visitation at Arizona’s State and National Parks

  • Educating the public on the need to protect fragile archaeological resources without promoting increased access

  • Developing creative revenue streams necessary to sustainably operate historical sites

  • Preserving character-defining grass lawns in residential historic districts given emergent drought conditions

  • Creating inclusive interpretation at historic sites associated with the theme of colonial conquest and the doctrine of discovery

  • Constructing high-density affordable housing on parcels with underutilized historic buildings

  • Questioning whether balance can be achieved when the loss of a resource creates significant cultural and spiritual harm to a community


While we anticipate that this conference will cover some difficult terrain and perhaps challenge the very precept of what we do as preservationists, we also look forward to the energy, ideas, and storytelling that that we know will spring forth from hard conversations. And as always, we promise to carve out ample time for tours of the Old Pueblo, celebrate preservation successes, and connect with familiar and new faces in Arizona preservation!

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