Saving cities, one building at a time

Who knew that preserving historic buildings could solve our cities problems? More and more research has gone into looking at the benefits of retrofitting and reusing older buildings instead of tearing them down and putting up new ones. Some of the cutting edge research has been done by Patrice Frey who is a member of the Preservation Green Lab and Director of Sustainability at the National Trust for Historic Preservation.Frey is a national leader in community development at the intersection of preservation and sustainability. She deserves the title “national leader” not only because of her responsibility in the National Trust for Historic Preservation’s sustainability work, but also because of her recent appointment as the first president and CEO of the National Main Street Center, Inc. She has been tasked of taking this program to the next level. This may be a daunting task since

 More than 2,000 communities have participated in the Main Street program since its inception, leading to more than 235,000 building rehabilitation projects and the creation of nearly 475,000 jobs in those cities and towns.

Although daunting, it may be right up the alley of Patrice who has dedicated most of her life to improving places through preservation. Preserving old things has been her passion since college and most likely before. She also has a gift of taking and making ideas and creating effectiveness on a national scale.

Preserving historic buildings not only for its historic value but it could also create more jobs. How do you get from historic buildings to economic development? Historic renovations to buildings require a lot more labor, but half as much materials. By doing this it creates more jobs. Patrice Frey’s commitment to this question has been overwhelmingly helpful in providing the research that communities rely on, and want so that they can have really amazing cities.

In this age of sustainability, policy makers, building owners, developers, architects and engineers want to have as little impact on the environment as possible, and historic preservation according to Patrice Frey’s and the Green Lab’s research has proven a way to make this possible.

The most up to date research on building reuse benefits has recently been completed by the Preservation Green Lab and National Trust for Historic Preservation in which Patrice Frey was a lead author. It came out in a report called, The Greenest Building: Quantifying the Environmental Value of Building Reuse. The bottom line of this research shows that

Reusing existing buildings is good for the economy, the community and the environment. At a time when our country’s foreclosure and unemployment rates remain high, communities would be wise to reinvest in their existing building stock. Historic rehabilitation has a thirty-two year track record of creating 2 million jobs and generating $90 billion in private investment. Studies show residential rehabilitation creates 50% more jobs than new construction.

The methodology this study used was comparing old buildings with buildings that are being constructed. One of the key findings in this document was that reusing buildings almost always yields fewer environmental impacts than new construction when comparing buildings of similar size and function.

This study finds that it takes 10 to 80 years for a new building that is 30 percent more efficient than an average-performing existing building to overcome, through efficient operations, the negative climate change impacts related to the construction process.

Although these findings are overwhelming, it is still needed to get the word out. Frey is encouraging policymakers and city planners to take into consideration the benefits of building reuse. On Patrice Frey’s blog she is getting the word out about the importance, and how historic preservation is being overlooked by some. Her work and ideas about historic preservation are tools for sustainability and it is changing the roles of preservationist in cities.

Patrice Frey’s research is changing the role of the current historic preservation professional. She is getting the word out there that our built environment has great impact on the future of our planet and communities. Frey is backing up her claims by proving them through her research. She has taken on the role as a new age preservationist and by providing communities with this sound advice to reduce carbon emission in their homes. She has taken this obligation to make older homes more energy efficient by renovating them. In the long run it will make our communities more sustainable as well as preserving our heritage.

2 thoughts on “Saving cities, one building at a time

  1. Interesting take on framing preservation within sustainability conversations and focusing on the economic and environmental outcomes. What about the equity angle? How should planning think differently based on your observations?

  2. Kyle, I like your take on preservation. Here’s a link to an organization a friend (Anne Daigle) is working on in New Orleans — funded by The Prince’s Foundation For Building Community:

    They’ve been working on rehabilitating Katrina-damaged homes, and building-up traditional construction skills within the local community. Programs like this also help on the racial and gender equity issues brought up by Dr. Ashley.

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