Sunday, May 24, 2009

Owner or Renter

Yesterday I happened upon some folks from the proposed historic district of Racine whom I have known for quite some time. For several minutes we discussed the pros and cons of the proposed ordinance. The three of them were mostly favorable towards the idea, though they acknowledged some potential pitfalls and at least one of them was uncomfortable with the coercion necessary to achieve results.

All in all it was a rational discussion until one of them suggested that we can't own history, and that we can only rent it. Naturally I pounced all over that thought, asking from whom was she renting. She didn't answer that question but it isn't too difficult to figure out. We share our history collectively, we take care of it collectively, and any issues involving our history would be resolved via the collective, ie government.

I believe she has perhaps inadvertantly touched on the central issue here. Who's homes are these? What does ownership mean? Are we caretakers, renters from society, or owners? What do these differences mean with respect to the proposed ordinance?

My own view is that ownership means something and that the history worth preserving here is the historical understanding of ownership. And we should vigorously resist the city's latest attempt to chip away at that foundation.

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