From its initial concern with monuments, conservation—called historic preservation in the United States—has expanded its focus to include the setting of the monument, historic quarters, and districts, and more recently, cultural and historic landscapes. On the positive side, conservation has tempered the onslaught of capitalist development: many historic areas have been saved from demolition. But in the process, much of the everyday city has become a “monument”—insulated from change and evolution. From its inception, the idea of the historic city was constructed in opposition to the modern city, its ideological “other.” These twin constructs have made it impossible to marry the concerns of development, stewardship, and sustainability. This essay argues that in order to move forward, we must understand the origins of the idea of the historic city—questioning, revising, and perhaps discarding the assumptions on which it is based. It proposes a working narrative of the idea of the historic city, drawing on the experience of Western Europe, French North Africa, and the United States.