In politics, there's nothing more powerful than a personal story.
Think about it: From the start of the Iowa primaries until the final polls closed in Alaska, we heard a steady stream of stories about the concerned line worker in Michigan, the parents who couldn't afford college payments in California, and the single mom who waits tables as a second job in North Carolina. And really, who can forget the now infamous plumber who became an overnight political sensation?
These stories work because they give us something to sink our teeth - and our hearts - into, which is why the National Trust for Historic Preservation has launched a new series called Faces in Preservation. As a supplement to our official policy platform, this evolving collection of stories will introduce you and the incoming Obama Administration to the preservationists who are on the front lines of change in our communities and demonstrating that preservation is so much more than just standing in front of wrecking balls.
This week, we start with pioneers in sustainability who are proving that going green puts communities in the black. In anticipation of his Faces in Preservation profile, we had a chance to chat with Mayor Roy D. Buol of Dubuque, Iowa, about a project that is turning 17 downtown blocks of abandoned or misused industrial warehouses into a livable, walkable neighborhood that is green friendly and mixed use.
PreservationNation: What does sustainability mean to you?
We must remember the Native American proverb that says "We do not inherit the earth, we borrow it from our grandchildren." When I think about sustainability, I see the faces of my grandchildren. I see them in school, at the park, near the river, making crafts at the art museum or going to a festival in downtown. I see how connected they are to our community and the lessons that they are already learning about being stewards of this great city. Even at their young age, they are interacting and respecting the native species that make our bluffs so majestic, our prairies so open, and our creeks and rivers full of life. They are meeting new families that come to Dubuque and celebrating the richness that these families bring with traditions and cultures for us to enjoy. And they benefit from quality, local businesses that provide a means to raise healthy, productive families. Sustainability must be about creating stewardship in our children and grandchildren - a stewardship that emphasizes environmental integrity, social/cultural vibrancy and economic prosperity.
PreservationNation: What does sustainability mean to the City of Dubuque?
Sustainability is an important economic and workforce recruitment tool. It is about managing our resources and using them in the most efficient and economic way possible. As a community, we need to re-engineer the way we look at lifecycle costs. Smart energy systems and green initiatives may in the traditional model seem like a more expensive way of doing business. But our community has been around for 175 years, so we should be looking at lifecycle costs of 25, 30 or 40 years, not 10 or 15 years as we have done in the past.
Sustainability is also about creating an environment where today’s worker wants to live. We are a technology society and today’s worker can live anywhere in the world. Sustainability is about creating a community that employees want to live in. Where you have workers, you have employers and you have jobs.
PreservationNation: As both a mayor and a resident of Dubuque, why was saving and revitalizing the Warehouse District important to you?
As a river town, our community was shaped with bricks and mortar. Throughout the Warehouse District you see how a neighborhood evolved. But this wasn’t just any neighborhood; this was a neighborhood that had a culture and vitality all its own. It’s where generations of our citizens lived and worked and where some of the finest woodworking and milling in the country took place. I think about what the Warehouse District was like then and what people are looking for today and I see important parallels. People, and especially new workers, want to live, work and play in a creative and unique environment. We’ve heard consultants talk about hot jobs in cool communities, the vision of the Warehouse District is just that - to create a cool community for people to live, work and play. This vision is synonymous with the principles of sustainability, providing physical connections between people and places...connections accessible by car, by bike or even walking.
The Warehouse District also represents an investment. First, it represents the investment our ancestors made in establishing (now since past) businesses that provided a means to raise a family. So we have a history in these buildings that we should never forget. Second, the buildings represent a huge investment in embodied energy. Embodied energy is the energy consumed to create a product. We cannot ignore the amount of energy used to build these buildings. To ignore that, tear these buildings down and build new buildings on the site is not a good use of our resources. Restoration of these buildings creates green collar jobs. Approximately 60 to 70 percent of the costs of restoration are labor costs...jobs for our citizens. When you build new, 60 to 70 percent of the cost is material costs - materials that are provided by suppliers from all over the world. Green collar jobs can’t be exported. This is why historic preservations must be part of any sustainability initiative and why we need federal policies that promote the redevelopment of historic structures - its good resource management.
PreservationNation: So far, what are you most proud of in terms of progress in the Warehouse District?
Dubuque leaders pride themselves of the spirit of partnership and collaboration. The Warehouse District is just another example of how committed we are to working with the private sector. This is an initiative that was identified as one of our Envision 2010 top 10 initiatives. Envision 2010 was a process where nearly 15,000 tri-state residents came together to generate ideas of what we wanted to see in our community. Over 2,000 ideas were listed and soon the list was whittled down to 100, then 30 and then the final 10.
Once this happened, a revitalization strategy was crafted by a task force made up of the four major property owners: Dubuque Main Street, Greater Dubuque Development, the Chamber of Commerce and city staff. Included in the vision were some bold ideas that would mean significant investment by the private and public sector. This document was brought to the city council for our consideration. When we saw the commitment from the property owners, the passion for the vision from the committee, and the opportunities to showcase how communities can balance historic preservation and sustainability, we knew we had another winning partnership.
So much progress has already happened as a result of our work in the Warehouse District. We have received funding to complete a master plan and economic analysis plan, we succeeded in getting the state legislature to commit to more dollars to the state historic tax credit program, and we have stayed true to a vision that is shared by the community.
PreservationNation: The City of Dubuque has an impressive sustainability campaign on its Web site, complete with a green pledge for residents. Tell us how this bold initiative and the public’s response to it are informing your work as mayor.
Community knowledge and eco-literacy are critical to any sustainability undertaking.
In 2006, when I joined with other mayors to sign onto the U. S. Conference of Mayors Climate Action Agreement in support of the Kyoto Protocol to reduce global warming, I knew we were charting a new course for Dubuque. That same year, I received the support of the entire city council to identify sustainability as one of our top priorities for our community. Since then, we have made significant strides in raising awareness about the role sustainability must play in everyday life. We developed the green pledge card, a tips sheet on 25 green things you can do for under $25...we created an annual Growing Sustainable Communities Conference that last year was attended by nearly 600 policy decision makers, educators as well as offered scholarships for students. We have also developed a series of sustainability programs for our cable access channel to educate our community on simple things they can do to make our community more sustainable. The momentum is growing!
Our school district now has a Green Vision School Certification with several schools already achieving certification, and they have partnered with us on the Garden Organic Program - a program that involves elementary school children in growing a garden and using the produce to make a healthy meal for their family.
We still have much ground to cover in community education. Each citizen will become engaged at their own time and for their own reasons, our challenge is to help them identify their reason.