As a preservationist this is a question I often ask myself. When I’m driving around the Swedish countryside I see the most amazing houses. Small cottages, big mansions, dilapidated rectories. Often they stand empty and majestic in the most stunning surroundings and not a single soul seems to care. Overgrown orchards and tiredlooking flowerbeds that hasn’t been tended to for a very long time. The cheap plastic paint is falling off façades by the bucket load, and the panelling needs looking after. It all gives the impression of being weary and forgotten. And in the midst of all this, the beauty lies. Like a budding flower, with the right amount of love and attention these houses will bloom if someone just decides to take care of them. But it is a costly business, so who will?
In general, municipalities, borough councils or the state won’t do anything as long as they can avoid the responsibility. On the other hand, why would they. It is not (always) their immediate fault that the imaginary building for this post is in such a dire state. What happened to the responsibility of the owner? But one has to remember, we can never know what the whole story behind a dilapidated building is. There might be a single owner who could not care less, but there are numerous examples with siblings or cousins having been left houses in a will and they can’t agree what to do with it, so they simply let the house stand empty. A shame, but that’s a reason as bad as any I guess.
This takes me back to my initial query; does caring for a house or a building always have to be for our own financial gain? It is as though if we can’t sell a house for a healthy net profit in a few years it is not worth having. If we can’t make money out of refurbishing there is no reason to invest. But what about our built national heritage? What about the importance of a specific regional architecture, or building style which is a more prudent phrase for the vernacular buildings in some parts of the European countryside. What about preserving localy important buildings like old dairies, post offices or railway stations. They might not have been used for a hundred or so years, but does that mean they are of no importance to us today? Hardly.
This is where the hardcore preservationist comes in to play. When someone is prepared to invest their own hard earned time and money in a house simply to save it from demolition or from falling down, other people shake their heads and call them ”crazy idealists” and, sometimes, less flattering names. Though, when the village post office from 1863 is saved for the future these same people stand looking on, saying how marvellous it all looks and isn’t it great some people are prepared to preserve these building for our grandchildren and future generations to come. And it certainly is. There are times when we have to be prepared to save cultural national heritages, also the built, even if we might not become millionaires on the spot. But our local region, our town or village will for sure have become much richer. That can be reason enough.