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The Daily Wildcat

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The Daily Wildcat

The Daily Wildcat


Column: Let’s repurpose instead of rebuilding

“Out with the old and in with the new” doesn’t always mean the old has to go.

In New York, four old, glass phone booths escaped destruction after a company called Intersection decided to revamp the booths into Wi-Fi kiosks with working telephones. While those four booths are part of a larger project to turn all pay phones in New York into Wi-Fi kiosks, these four are special because they’re the only glass, old-style phone booths left in the city.

For that reason, the booths were altered to remain functionality in today’s modern world. Intersection wanted to retain a piece of history and a flavor of the city that was slowly slipping away as cell phones dominated the streets and more phone booths were simply removed after falling into disrepair.

New York isn’t the only place where old things are being redone to meet new needs. On the East Coast, many old, derelict mill buildings are being turned into apartments, business spaces and public meeting places instead of being bulldozed. Arizona has plenty of it’s own examples, too — many of our houses are pieces of history that people refuse to destroy in order to build something newer and more modern.

The reasons for refurbishing instead of redoing can differ slightly from person to person, but an overarching trend can be found: People like to see at least a little of the past around them. They respect it. Seeing old buildings or phone booths reminds them of an area’s history.

Keeping older structures also helps a city or town maintain the feeling and look that define it, rather than mold everything into a carbon copy of modernity. The historic districts of Tucson would not be worth visiting if they weren’t historic. My hometown in Maine would not be known for its mills if the city’s original plan to knock all those brick structures down went as planned. Both of these cities would be bland and unremarkable without their distinctive, historical features.

In the same way, New York streets would have lost a little of their magic if the city hadn’t realized what a treasure those four booths were.

As a species, we are obsessed with the forward march, with new inventions and ideas, and with redoing what we don’t like and improving the things we do. But the efforts of New York, Maine and Tucson all show there are ways of moving forward that do not require the destruction of the past.

We should look to these places for ideas and inspiration of how to balance the old and new. It is possible to preserve our past and still create a future, and in some cases, the future just wouldn’t be as engaging without these older elements.

Follow Marissa Heffernan on Twitter.

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