Superlatives 2012

Class Historian

You’d be forgiven if the words “historic preservation” bring to mind dusty, dowdy society types fussing over old buildings, but with executive director James Hall at its helm, the …

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You’d be forgiven if the words “historic preservation” bring to mind dusty, dowdy society types fussing over old buildings, but with executive director James Hall at its helm, the Providence Preservation Society has made the cause more dynamic, engaging and even a bit younger. You might say he’s helped make historic preservation cool. With his natty wardrobe (including signature bow ties and colorful socks) and cool air of both confidence and competence, Hall is shaping up to be the leader PPS needed to take its efforts to the next level. The organization is no longer simply trying to preserve historic spaces and architecture; it’s engaging community leaders – particularly the emerging generation of them – to keep Providence unique and thriving by being stewards of its landscape. “Preservation has to always redefine itself,” Hall explains, “and remind each successive generation of why we are an essential part of the mix of a healthy city.” The organization has been at the forefront of these conversations. Its events like the Winter Bash, Festival of Historic Houses and “Make No Little Plans” symposium attract not just well-heeled donors and architecture wonks, but regular people who want to experience and maintain the unique character of this city. And words like “economic development” are becoming as central to PPS’ conversations as “historic preservation.” As Hall notes, “Is there economic development in Providence that is not related to historic preservation?”