The Greenest Building is the One Already Standing

Diane Keaton on How We Treat Old Buildings Like Plastic Bags

And it isn't just professional preservationists, there are a lot of people passionate about preservation. Actor Diane Keaton is one:

We've treated old buildings like we once treated plastic shopping bags -- we haven't reused them, and when we've finished with them, we've tossed them out. This has to stop. Preservation must stand alongside conservation as an equal force in the sustainability game. More older and historic buildings have to be protected from demolition, not only because it affects our pocketbooks but more important because it threatens our environment. Let's face it, our free ride at the expense of the planet is over."

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A Nation Watches Its Heritage Rot Away

Nor is it just signwaving leftwing hippie treehuggers who are promoting renovation, reuse and heritage; Even Canada's National Post has editorialized about the importance of heritage as stimulus.

At a time when governments are looking to bolster employment through infrastructure stimulus, one option that should be considered is for the federal government and the provinces to restore a wide range of Canada's historic buildings. It would seem more worthwhile to protect our heritage than, say, buy a failing company.

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Big Steps in Building: Ban Demolition

In the end, we probably cannot depend on small town politicians to get the larger picture. National, State and Provincial polices must be changed to encourage preservation. It is about energy and conservation; as Robert Shipley and Jason Kovac write:

"Every brick in building required the burning of fossil fuel in its manufacture, and every piece of lumber was cut and transported using energy. As long as the building stands, that energy is there, serving a useful purpose. Trash a building and you trash its embodied energy too."

Some heritage activists go further, and suggest that we should ban demolition as of right completely. Canadian heritage activist Catherine Nasmith (past president of the Architectural Conservancy of Ontario) suggests that there are few buildings that cannot be saved, upgraded, restored or renovated. If someone wants to take one down there had better be a damn good reason. She is interested in architectural history; I am interested in embodied energy, living in a world after oil and walkable communities, but the result is the same: Rehab it, don't blow it away.

We think more about recycling beer bottles and tin cans than we do about buildings. This has to change.

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Tags: Ban Demolition | Canada


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