Jim Barnes on preserving history (or not)

With all of the debate taking place on the future of Oak Cliff in terms of zoning and development, I was interested to hear the viewpoint of neighborhood historian Jim Barnes, whom I interviewed for a story in February’s magazine. His response surprised me — turns out historians aren’t strictly preservationists. The past is past, Barnes essentially says, and we need to learn from it as we head into the future:

"I think history is kind of a danger to Oak Cliff, too. Oak Cliff tends to be a bit too nostalgic at times. But there’s the possibility that Oak Cliff is on the threshold of a big architectural change, and I would like to see the neighborhood move to a whole new level of density. A lot of people are really reluctant to do that, and I think we need to embrace that. We’re not going to have the shopping, the property values we want if we don’t move up to the higher density.

"There’s plenty of history around — history’s not going to go anywhere. While we save tokens from the past, we don’t want to live in the past. The past is a terrible place, actually. There’s a reason why they left it behind. In Mary Stevens’ scrapbook, there are horrible obituaries and letters from relatives like, ‘Oh, your brother died. He looked fine last week, but he came back with some form of swamp fever.’"


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