"Sustainable Development vs Historic Preservation" Is A False Dichotomy


French Quarter, New Orleans. Image Credit Wikipedia Commons

Over at Triple Pundit, Royce DuBiner of the Sturm College of Law discusses the issue of preservation and energy conservation. He writes:

One inevitably wonders why we are building new "green" structures when we could just use the ones we already have. Reusing an old water bottle instead of buying a new one is a great idea. Why not reuse the old building instead of building a new one?

He discusses a battle over the installation of solar panels on a house in the French Quarter of New Orleans, describing the challenge of finding the balance between preservation and green.

These two schools of thought clashed recently in New Orleans. Against the wishes of the Vieux Carré Commission (a preservationist group that works to protect New Orleans' famous French Quarter structures), the New Orleans City Council approved the first use of solar panels on a house in the French Quarter. The Council required panels to be black and angled in a particular way to best blend in with the house's roof. And despite the protests of the Vieux Carré Commission, many New Orleans residents remarked that the Council's decision is consistent with the goal of making the French Quarter a vibrant, livable community. One remarked, "The French Quarter is not some sort of outdoor museum." People live and work in New Orleans and it should not be made into Williamsburg, Virginia.

I would suggest that preservationists who are against the sticking of green gizmos on the roofs of historic buildings are using the wrong approach and fighting the wrong battle. What can those solar panels provide in terms of energy, that could not be saved in other ways? I was recently interviewed by the London Free Press and suggested another way of looking at preservation. I quote from Ian Gillepie's article:

Alter -- who has worked as an architect, developer and builder of prefab housing, is president of the Architectural Conservancy of Ontario and an adjunct professor at Ryerson University's school of interior design -- argues that one of the best ways to cope with the problems posed by climate change is to focus less on "green gizmo" innovations and more on the common-sense design of old buildings.

"We've been concentrating on the wrong things," he says. "For me, it all leads back to learning from our heritage buildings."

In our headlong rush to create new solutions, Alter says we've overlooked the incredible efficiency of old houses that rely on traditional concepts -- including double-hung windows, transoms, shutters, porches, awnings, trees and vines -- to keep a house comfortable.

He says several U.S. and Canadian studies have shown that older residential neighbourhoods are incredibly energy efficient.

"It's astounding . . . but older districts are much greener than newer ones," says Alter, adding that older areas usually make it easier for residents to walk or cycle to where they work or shop. "If you look at all the data, it shows that if you're living in a drafty old house in a walkable neighbourhood near downtown, you use less energy per capita than someone living in a brand new insulated house in the suburbs."

In Triple Pundit, DuBiner concludes:

In the meantime there is still no better way to build green than using what already exists. Building techniques can be utilized to reduce harm to the original structure while newer and more efficient technologies can be integrated into the building. Green buildings allow their occupants to appreciate the past and utilize a sustainable structure that has its place in the modern world.


From Urbanism in the age of climate change

But we can do more than that. After reading Peter Calthorpe's call for more Green Urbanism, where "more urban life is matched with efficient, clean energy sources, less driving in more efficient cars, better building technology and green utilities", I noted in my lecture in London that we need more Heritage Urbanism, where we revitalize our downtowns, main streets and walkable communities.

What's far more important is getting the message out to the municipalities that we've got to start reinforcing our main streets and we've got to stop building big box stores in the suburbs. We've got to deal with the fact that when gasoline is $2.00 a litre ($7 per gallon) people are going to want to walk to the store.

If you really look at the total energy picture, there is no battle of historic preservation versus sustainable development. It is a false dichotomy; they are one and the same.

More in the London Free Press
Why are Old Buildings Like Green Gadgets? : TreeHugger
The Greenest Building is the One Already Standing : TreeHugger
The Greenest Brick is the One That's Already in the Wall : TreeHugger

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Tags: Ban Demolition | Green Building

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