Preservation Round-Up: The Greenest Building Edition

Posted on: June 9th, 2011 by David Garber

The famous Slows Bar-B-Q in Detroit's Corktown neighborhood. (Photo: Flickr user DigDowntownDetroit)

In preservation circles, it’s a story we’ve all heard a million times yet still hasn’t reached the mainstream: restoring existing buildings is one of the greenest ways to build. For all the press that green starchitect skyscrapers get (much of which is actually pretty cool … we need flashes of new every once in a while), historic preservation rarely gets a mention.

But review columns and trades magazines showcase a different reality than most Americans experience. Look around - it’s the older neighborhoods and buildings that are pricier – first choice for those with the most resources. The hot new speakeasies and galleries are typically in old buildings. Exposed brick is still king. When given the option, most people tend to choose a look and a lifestyle that mixes old and new. Trendy and retro go hand in hand. If green is the headline, then why isn’t preservation and adaptation the story?

Certainly it’s up to us to make that change. We know that preservation is sexy. We can preach (too often to the choir) that preservation is green. Here are a few stories that help flip that vision to a wider audience (and a few that just keep us jazzed about preservation in general).

Miller-McCune Magazine published a story titled “Old Buildings Combine Sustainability, Preservation” that gives a little more depth to common “preservation is greenest” cry.

Helping historic preservationists present their case are new studies that calculate what is lost — in measurable environmental terms — when we tear buildings down and replace them with new ones. Plenty of studies have demonstrated the merits of constructing new green buildings, but until recently, there’s been relatively little data available on the economic and environmental benefits of building reuse.

In New York, one preservation story is pretty much all about green, hip, good-looking, and relevant: The High Line Section 2 is Now Open. We’ve pushed High Line stories before, but if you aren’t familiar, it’s a new contemporary park and pathway built atop old elevated railroad tracks on the west side of Manhattan. And dang is it a preservation and adaptation win. The New York Times ran a story about how the opening has changed the neighborhood for the better, and the Inhabitat blog has some great photos of the park’s latest segment.

We’ve all seen photos of Detroit’s abandoned buildings and windswept neighborhoods, but it’s time the Motor City got some good press. The New York Post highlights the Corktown neighborhood in its article “The New Detroit Cool,” and shows off an old side of the city that’s lifting itself up.

Here, you can now see artists working to re-appropriate forgotten spaces as public art. You have urban farmers making productive use of vacant land, taking the idea of eating local to the extreme. You have the city's most talked-about restaurant (an excellent barbecue joint), a record store, a Martiniquais (by way of Paris, Brazil and Brooklyn) making crepes, a cool little vintage boutique, two brothers selling freshly-made bagels out of their apartment, a sustainable food truck and, soon, a speakeasy-style cocktail lounge and a third-wave coffee bar.

(PS – if you haven’t seen these great videos featuring some of the cooler sides of Detroit, they’re definitely a must-see.)

Check out this great op-ed from Dallas – “Not J.R.’s Kind of Town” which tells the story of how one local found a way to restore the old Kessler Theater. With so many old and abandoned theaters across the United States, this is actually a really relevant story for how to give them new life. The key: bring in more uses than just performances.

Oh hey look! In preservationy-but-not-necessarily news, the Chicago Tribune is reporting that the “front porch is enjoying a renewed surge in popularity.”

"It changes the tempo and pace of your life," said Gail Warner, a public relations consultant who bought a house with a front porch in a planned community in Fort Mill, S.C., in 2007. "We're out there in the evening with our porch mayor (pet dog), having a glass of wine and talking to the neighbors. We all have front porches here, which means we all know each other. When a neighbor needs help, we galvanize."

Before moving to Fort Mill, Warner and her husband lived in a porchless town house. "Nine years there, and I never knew my neighbors," said Warner.

A front porch, you say? Couldn’t we all use one of those right about now? Commence mid-day dreaming.

Still don't have your preservation news fix? Check out these other stories that caught our eye:

David Garber is a member of the Digital and New Media team at the National Trust for Historic Preservation. Sweet parks, good barbecue, and front porch sittin' sounds really good to him right now. Fightin' the urge.

The National Trust for Historic Preservation works to save America's historic places. Join us today to help protect the places that matter to you.

General, Green, News Round-Ups, Revitalization