When you travel to China's cities, most of the city has been recently constructed. If you request it, Western tourists are taken to the "old parts" of the city to see what life used to be like. There you see one and two story buildings and lots of street vendors selling stuff for tourists. It appears that China views "historical preservation" as a way to create another tourist site but that there are diminishing returns to preserving too much of the past because the land could be used to build something tall such as an apartment tower.
In the United States, mainly in older liberal cities there is a desire to preserve the past. Today, the NY Times explores whether NYC has gone too far as a debate plays out concerning whether TV legend Larry King's childhood house merits "historic preservation" status. Who is the King Solomon among us who can figure out the right balance between keeping pieces of the past vs. embracing progress? Could we use the market to determine this? If history is valuable and can be labeled, won't Larry King's house be highly priced because it is Larry King's house and thus the owner would have no incentive to tear it down and build a 7-11? To appreciate the unintended consequences of overuse of the "historic landmarking", read Ed Glaeser's piece posted here.