My Turn — Stephen Pocklington: Making history

Published 12:00 am Wednesday, July 3, 2024

By Stephen Pocklington

Attending a recent Historic Preservation Commission meeting sparked a reconsideration of history’s vast scope. We often neglect whatever is outside our narrow slice, especially the future we generate through our everyday choices. 

I note that we’re selective in what we recall. Our original immigration crisis involved a Spanish-speaking horde invading our shores, intent on displacing the rightful inhabitants and seizing their homeland. Other invaders followed, bringing criminals to steal land, exploit resources and enslave or exterminate the indigenous peoples. But we don’t call those invading hordes “immigrants”; we call them “colonizers,” forefathers.

Saying “pioneers” and “settlers” helps us forget we are all living on stolen land expropriated through acts of genocide, which makes me wonder whether we’re actually preserving historical places and aesthetics or clinging to the ethos and values of those colonizers. 

We’re not at the pinnacle of our evolution. We will evolve beyond our previous conceptions of perfection. Nature constantly evolves; it grows. Looking beyond old buildings and monuments, we’ll notice how nature hints at what our community may yet become. We cannot stop evolution, nor nature, only pervert it. So, I suggest we partner with nature and permit much of our human past to crumble into the dust.

We won’t prevent the approaching climate apocalypse by clinging to those past behaviors that brought it on. This crisis requires new ways of living — not just living on this planet, but in this place. It is time for the commission to concern itself with preserving our future, which requires preserving the planet.

That will entail preserving the interconnection of local landscapes, habitats and open spaces. We must protect biodiversity and deepen our connection with the land (Earth). Ecology and hydrology need to guide development, not colonial aesthetics. we need to work with nature, not against it. walls must come down so water can flow where it wants to, literally and figuratively. nature and the Web of Life must be unfettered. Rewilding must become our new guiding principle. Salisbury must consider becoming a habitat more than a city, perhaps starting with wildflower meadows instead of lawns and orchards instead of vacant lots. 

History begins with and proceeds through creative forces. If we fail to move forward through acts of creation, all we’ll ever produce is a dead-end that traps us in mediocrity. Even in their best moments, thoughtful preservationists may undermine their noblest efforts and remain sad purveyors of some other time’s status quo. And isn’t that a dispiriting way to face the uncertainties of a potentially catastrophic future? The truth is, we can’t afford to hunker down in quaint antiquities, however aesthetic. We must embrace an honest and comprehensive understanding of our sordid past, and free ourselves from it. Only then can we create a better future.  

Let’s abandon the antiquated notion of a historical “certificate of appropriateness.” Instead, let’s begin certifying that all new and restorative development is both sustainable and congruent with the future we want — our children’s future, and their children’s future.