Students Take on Neighborhood Sustainability and Preservation

Posted on: January 24th, 2008 by Patrice Frey

The National Trust and the University of Pennsylvania’s program in historic preservation (my alma mater!) are partnering to offer a Seminar on Sustainability, Planning and Historic Preservation. The class met for the first time last Wednesday – we started out with a great conversation about how the concept of “sustainable development” emerged and has evolved over the last 20 years or so.

The class project is focused on LEED for Neighborhood Development standards, which have been released by the US Green Building Council. I think this marks an important shift for the USGBC – away from the one-dimensional focus on the environmental aspects of building – to thinking more holistically about the components of a sustainable community, including the social dimensions.

LEED-ND is in its pilot phase, which provides a fantastic opportunity to take the standards for a test drive. Students will apply LEED-ND to several different neighborhood typologies, including historic neighborhoods in urban neighborhoods and close-in suburbs. The process should inform our understanding of the sustainable characteristics of historic neighborhood -- i.e. what can we learn about different types of historic neighborhood when we evaluate them in a systematic way using sustainability criteria? At the same time, evaluating historic neighborhoods will also inform our understanding of these new sustainability standards -- i.e. what can historic neighborhoods teach us about sustainability and LEED for Neighborhood Development?

My colleague Rhonda Sincavage from State and Local Policy and I will be co-teaching the course along with Randall Mason, an Associate Professor in Penn’s historic preservation program. We’re thrilled that 20 or so students are enrolled – and that there is such a strong interest in this subject among students.

Check out the course blog at Students have posted entries this week with their response to National Trust President Richard Moe’s speech on the sustainability-preservation nexus. Their posts provide some great food for thought. You can see Richard Moe’s speech on sustainability and preservation at

Look forward to more posts on the class blog in the coming weeks.

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