Monday, November 17, 2008

Historic preservation in a down economy, looking at Buffalo, and the carbon footprint

There have been a couple of interesting articles and blog posts over the last few days that made me start thinking about how historic preservation and the economy are linked.

One post by Lynn Becker on a site I very much like, ArchitectureChicago Plus, led me to an article in the New York Times this weekend about how down economies can be good for preservation - this article was about Buffalo and its collection of older important buildings.

The pictures in this post were taken from the article and slide show at the NY times, they are taken by Tony Cenicola/The New York Times. They show the Daniel Burnham's Ellicott Square Building and Louis Sullivan's Guarantee Building.

The article at ArchitectureChicago Plus by Lynn Becker is:

Weekend Reading - Ouroussoff Buffaloed, Kamin at the Piano

An insightful passage is:

"But, of course, historic architecture has two great enemies. One is prosperity, where a historic building is the obstacle to recycling the site to higher density and greater economic gain. The second, however, is poverty, where historic buildings are considered expendable because they no longer seem to possess any residual economic potential."

I would also add, that on a smaller neighborhood level, when there is not enough money to go around, there is also not enough money to do basic maintenance on the old buildings that we are interested in. For example, sooner or later, if you do not fix a leaky roof, water will get in and ruin a building.

The New York Times article is:

Saving Buffalo's Untold Beauty

Nicolai Ouroussoff
Published: November 14, 2008

I took a few quotes out of the article that I thought were very interesting.

About Bufallo and its preservation movement:

"And today its grass-roots preservation movement is driven not by Disney-inspired developers but by a vibrant coalition of part-time preservationists, amateur historians and third-generation residents who have made reclaiming the city’s history a deeply personal mission."

"Later that day I met with a group of local activists who have been rebuilding single-family houses in some of the city’s most run-down historic neighborhoods. On Richmond Avenue, one of Olmsted’s grand decaying parkways, Harvey Garrett, a strategic planning consultant, spent several years renovating a 19th-century Victorian house before an arsonist set fire to it in 2006. He rebuilt it, and he is now one of the city’s busiest community organizers and strongest preservation voices. Dozens of houses are now being renovated along the avenue, and an entire neighborhood that was once considered crime ridden is now livable again."

"What we see is a more egalitarian, diverse and socially tolerant vision of the city. It is both pro-density and pro-history. These residents have come to recognize through firsthand experience that social, economic and preservation issues are all deeply intertwined."

This sounds like an interesting movement. I think that those interested in preservation should join together and start doing their own development. I really feel that preservation and development do not need to be at odds.

The other blog post that got me thinking was on the blog of Vince Michael, Time Tells, this is a great blog that talks a lot about preservation issues.

Saving the Economy with Preservation

Vince Michael

The main point in this post is that saving old buildings is good for the economy, especially since the buildings are inherently local, and therefore the jobs and money stay local.

In this article Prof Micheal talks about some of the green aspects of preservation, which I think he points out succinctly in this quote:

"But back to preservation, which interestingly enough, offers a jobs-rich way to remake the economy. Rehabilitation of existing buildings is inherently sustainable – it makes the most of materials that are already there and takes advantage of carbon footprints made long ago."

I like the reference to the carbon footprints. I have often heard people talking about how preservation can be green, but I like the idea of the stored energy that is represented in a preexisting structure. The materials are already there, and the energy has already been spent on the construction.

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