Conservation and Sustainability: The Importance Historic Building Reuse

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Conservation and Sustainability: The Importance Historic Building Reuse We live in an age of progress. Every day the world around us is changing, the landscape of our cities continuously advancing; with new shopping centers, skyscrapers, and stop walks getting built on every corner. An unfortunate consequence of these developments is that many cities are demolishing old historic buildings to make room for modern architecture. Instead of demolishing these aged buildings, cities should use conservation and sustainability to reuse these locations in a way that meets present-day needs while keeping the property's historic character. The conservation and sustainability of historic buildings result in environmental, economic, and social benefits to communities. Michael Forsyth defined conservation as “Taking what is there and improving it before cutting or adding, while at the same time being able to show that present-day standards of public safety and comfort and important legislative requirements are satisfied.” (Forsyth 8). Buildings often outlive their original purpose; when this occurs, buildings often become abandoned and are left to rot away until they are eventually demolished. Through conservation, these unoccupied buildings can be repurposed for many beneficial modern-day purposes. The issue of whether historic buildings should be conserved and restored or demolished and replaced has long been a debated issue. (quote) Conservation and sustainability of historic resources an essential goal for those who seek a healthy economy, environment and seek to preserve culture. The first reason we should reuse existing buildings is because it’s a simple way of achieving sustainability to help the environment. Sustainability is the idea of creating economic growth without further depletion of natural resources. The reuse of historic buildings saves embodied energy, resources, and decreases the amount pollution and demolition waste. Historic buildings have embodied energy in them that is lost if a building is demolished, embodied energy refers to the amount of energy used to extract, process, deliver, and install the materials needed to construct a building. Robert Shipley wrote: “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.” (Shipley 49). Every step involved in creating a building uses energy, and most the energy used comes from burning coal, oil, and other irreplaceable fossil fuels. When a building is demolished rather than reused, all the embodied energy and carbon is essentially wasted, along with all the all the other resources than required for the demolition and construction of the new building. So, in the end, we lose not only the cherished structure but also the total amount of human and mechanical energy that originally went into it originally being built. Destruction not only uses an immense amount of energy and resources, it also discharges tons’ toxins and other pollutants into the air, water, and soil, and produce enormous amounts of debris. Reusing already existing historic buildings gives communities an excellent opportunity to use sustainable development to reduce our nation’s energy consumption and carbon emissions while helping improve our community’s economy. As pollution increases, and the amount of natural resources we have decreases, we need to learn to conserve our resources while they are still available. Conservation doesn’t just solidify a community’s past, it can help improve a community’s future. Historic conservation positively affects local economies by attracting tourism, creating jobs, and raising property prices. Historic buildings are often the foundation of community life and help create lively, enlightening downtown that attracts tourism, festivals, art, and other events which result in economic development. These compelling, antique, buildings help generate tourism, which untimely, benefits the local businesses, creates jobs, and increases property values. “Biltmore, a great estate in North Carolina, commissioned a study of its local impact……for every $1 a visitor spent at Biltmore, $12 was spent elsewhere—hotels, restaurants, gas stations, retail shops, etc. Biltmore was the magnet that drew visitors, but for every dollar that Biltmore reaped, others garnered $12” (Rypkema). This quote represents how having a historic building at the centerpiece of an area can have a positive effect on all the surrounding local businesses by increasing the number of customers. According to Donovan Rypkema, “at the top of the list for economic development measurements are jobs created and increased local household income. The rehabilitation of older and historic buildings is particularly potent in this regard. As a rule of thumb, new construction will be half materials and half labor. Rehabilitation, on the other hand, will be sixty to seventy percent labor with the balance being materials.” (Rypkema). Rypkema then explains that this labor intensity has a dual effect on the economy. First, the jobs provided to the laborers are local, resulting in a local impact on the economy, then afterward, the laborer spends his pay on businesses within the community, recirculating the income. The final way conservation can improve the economy is by increasing property values of both the restored building and surroundings properties. Conservation of historic buildings stabilizes and strengthens the community by protecting its ancestral character, as well as improving property values as a result. “Research suggests pre-1919 houses are worth on average 20% more than equivalent more recent houses.” (McCallum 38). Many historic buildings tend to be more expensive than their equivalents due to their desirable unique architecture and design. Lastly, there are positive cultural benefits to the reuse of existing historic buildings, they help give us an understanding of our ancestral past and strengthen the community identity. These structures are visual and tangible forms our ancestor’s cultural identity. By preserving historic buildings, we can share the exact spaces and environments in which the generations before us lived. Historical sites are an exclusive source of information give us an insight on our local heritage and provide us an irreplaceable resource for future generations. “Many areas have a rich legacy which contributes to local identity and is an important local educational resource.” (McCallum 38). Communities have an obligation to respect these landmarks and preserve them for the future generations to learn and grow from. As symbols of a shared past, historic places also help create and strengthen the community identity. Every town has a unique heritage that is exhibited through their buildings, streets, and landscapes that help bring a special character and charm to the local area. “The importance of regeneration work in bringing benefits to the historic environment is arguably of much greater significance; it touches on more people’s lives, it affects the local economy and the places it creates become familiar, and hopefully enjoyed local environments.” (McCallum 35). These buildings don’t only get preserved just for their historic significance, they have exceptional cultural value for the wider community. Conservation and sustainability of historic buildings are essential to help provide those that come after us with a sense of heritage and continuity in a fast-changing world. The debate on whether communities should conserve and sustain historic structures or demolish and replace them has been a long-debated issue. On one side, there are preservationists who see historic buildings significant monuments that represent the past, on the other side there are developers who see these buildings as nothing more


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