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Conference attendees find a great example in Buffalo

More than 2,000 preservationists are in Buffalo this week, experiencing -- and learning from -- this dynamic community and also finding an inspiring example of a city using historic preservation to transform and revitalize itself.

When choosing a city to host the National Preservation Conference, the National Trust for Historic Preservation looks for a place with an important story to tell, a community that offers a unique perspective on preservation that can teach conference attendees something new about our field. For all of these reasons, Buffalo is an ideal location for our 2011 conference, and we are thrilled to be here.

Unlike other conferences, where attendees spend most of their time locked away in hotels and stuffy meeting rooms, National Preservation Conference attendees explore the host city as a living laboratory. Over the course of the conference, we'll see Buffalo by bus, by bike and on foot, and experience first-hand how the city approaches its preservation challenges.

And what may come as a surprise to those of us not from the Queen City, Buffalo is one of America's greatest architectural cities. From Frank Lloyd Wright to Minoru Yamasaki, most major 20th century architects and quite a few 19th century greats as well -- left a mark on Buffalo.

You have something really special here and your hard work to preserve it, often against steep odds, has won the respect of the preservation community. Of course, historic preservation means far more than just holding onto well-known architectural icons. While working hard to preserve its world-class stock of buildings, Buffalonians are also deeply engaged in the preservation-based revitalization of their neighborhoods. This week, conference attendees will have the opportunity to tour several neighborhoods throughout the city, including Allentown, Hamlin Park and the Elmwood Village. A key lesson they can take home with them is the way neighborhood organizations here have banded together, forming coalitions to advocate for their shared objectives.

A key victory for local residents, as well as Preservation Buffalo Niagara, came earlier this year when the federal government announced that it was abandoning plans for a new bridge and transportation plaza that would have led to the large-scale demolition of dozens of historic homes in the Peace Bridge neighborhood. The National Trust listed the neighborhood as one of America's 11 Most Endangered Historic Places in 2008, and we were gratified by this outcome, which spared a community with a truly unique sense of place.

It matters how we build our communities. Being thoughtful stewards of these places is hard work. But it is a job worth doing. We are not just hanging onto yesterday; we are building tomorrow. That is the message that conference attendees will hear over the next few days. And it is an area where Buffalo residents will continue to lead.

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Stephanie Meeks is the president of the National Trust for Historic Preservation.

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