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People need a connection to their roots, their culture's history, their semblance of what makes them who they are. In many ways, this is to create a bridge between the past and the present in order to preserve continuity between who came before them and themselves, or themselves and who will come after them. For whatever reason, people will choose certain things that they feel are essential to protect. Studies even show that most people in a community agree strongly on what these things are.

Therefore, no matter what is held sacred, protect those things in order to protect your selves. Create laws or regulations or statues or parks or museums or libraries or schools to hold onto their essential nature.

SacredSites are a means of OpenProcess, GuidePosts, demonstrating CommunityExpectations, showing off RoleModels, involving OutcastNewcomers, and any number of socially integrating effects. They are a means of communicating when no one is left to communicate to you.

But, some people get carried away protecting historically significant things, WritingAgainstLoss. Often the community does not care to protect everything from its past (indeed ForgiveAndForget urges them not to), nor can it grow if it is hampered by anchors from the past. Protecting everything for fear of losing something precious may prove even more costly than keeping only what's sentimental now. Be wise in deciding what is indeed important, and consider also that preserving a culture doesn't necessarily mean preserving an artifact, and vice versa.

Ripped loosely from ChristopherAlexander's A Pattern Language.

See also PublicArt. A SacredSite can become PublicArt.

CategoryArt CategoryUrbanDesign


I have ambivalent feelings about sacred sites. I really liked the page Wiki:ZenWindow, which was mostly unknown to the larger WikiWiki community, and I kept its existence hidden. I did this because it had a timestamp of 1995, marking it as one of the original pages, and demonstrating tangibly to me just how vivid the WikiNow really was. Once, in the middle of one those deep flame wars characteristic of 1999 and 2000, I showed it to people as a way of cheering them up--of a more innocent time for WikiWiki, I suppose. I told them not to edit it, and they didn't.

One of the final nails in the coffin that drove me away from that swamp was that someone finally found a typo, whisking away its 1995 timestamp. I was crestfallen, feeling that edit was just a symptom of the general change in the entire community, one rampant with newcomers with no sense of the site's depth and capabilites. How can you have a WikiNow without a respect for the LongNow? How can you participate without any respect of what's come before?

On the other hand, while I was in Washington, D.C., I read a story of what is undoubtedly common in many cities around the world: a historical society that was protecting junk in favour of useful community growth. Near the Capitol, there is a small and very old community, dating back to the city's founding. In that community, there is a "shotgun" house, notable for its overall shittiness. It's a shack, really, but it's historically important because it's the only likewise piece of shit north of the south. Over the decades it had changed as owners had upgraded it, until it was finally abandoned for being such a piece of shit. A developer bought it and several surrounding properties during the property glut in the 70s and waited until the right time to pounce. Meanwhile that piece of shit just degraded into a splintering, leaning, moldy piece of shit that even the flies and roaches refused to move into for fear of their lives.

Spring forward to the 90s, when the community was on an upswing. The people living in the neighbourhood wanted the urban blight of that rotting shack and its similarly delapitated relatives torn down, and they were desperate for nearby shops and restaurants to relieve the need for CarCulture. Sure they hated the developer for forcing them to condemn the properties, but hell, that's business. Things were ready to move forward until the historical society finally noticed that piece of shit stinging in the corner of their eyes and put the brakes on the whole project. Great, said everyone, now we have historically significant rotting urban blight instead of Starbucks. That really made their property values increase.

Things remained at a stalemate for a long period until the final ParetoOptimal solution stepped forward. A group wanted to build a school for handicapped children downtown, and preferably near the Capitol. Who could ask for a better project to replace these eyesores? Apparently not even Jesus, as the historical society still said no, despite the city ordinance allowing for projects of greater civil need. Apparently the group thought that handicapped schools are not a civil necessity, but a rotting shack surely is. So, the school raised more money and agreed to not only keep the shitty shack, but restore it to a pure AAA gold turd of a shack. Now that really was a ParetoOptimal solution!

Apparently not good enough for the psychos on the committee because they just arbitrarily decided that the garage behind the shack was an integral part of the building, even though in their own earlier reports they had agreed it had no value whatsoever, and it would make a great hole filler down at the dump. This really came down to an abuse of power, animosity, and generally a great example of what happenes when a community is forced to delegate its authority to unaccountable self-absorbed yahoos.

The group had to give up. The historical society was too powerful and too smug; the joy of thwarting their neighbours was more lush than seeing their own community grow and develop, then seeing those children happy, and seeing smiling faces when they went down to the corner store.

Sacred sites are often chosen not by the community, but by self-absorbed yahoos. Do these skientists really know better when they are just as fallable and psychotic as the rest of us? Nope. And so it leaves us with the burning question, how do we know what will end up being a SacredSite? It's important--how else will we show newcomers what's important and why? -- SunirShah


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