Sustainability Round-Up: A Future in the Rust Belt Edition

Posted on: November 3rd, 2011 by National Trust for Historic Preservation 1 Comment


Buffalo's mid-density neighborhoods are well-suited for adaptation and restoration. (Photo: Flickr user dmealiffe)

Written by Rachel Bowdon

The obituaries for rustbelt cities have been written many times over, but those of us who attended this year’s National Preservation Conference in Buffalo won’t be writing off that city any time soon. Buffalo, it turns out, is filled with amazing architecture, great restaurants, a growing arts scene, and trendy retail. And not only is Buffalo booming with life, but some are beginning to suggest that such older, industrial cities may be well poised for success in a more energy and water constrained future.

In his rallying cry for Buffalo, Chris Hawly argues that “Rust Belt cities are greener and more sustainable than all the Sun Belt sprawl cities,” and that such sustainability strengths are going to give the city an important competitive edge in the coming years. “Pretty soon,” he writes, “all those Sun Belt cities are going to wish they’d developed in the late 20th century the way Buffalo did in the early 20th century. Buffalo’s mixed-use, compact neighborhoods are still here. We’re reviving them one by one. And unlike the sprawling cities built for the car, Buffalo starts with traditional neighborhoods built for people.”

Catherine Tumber would appear to agree. She just wrote the exciting new book Small, Gritty, and Green: The Promise of America’s Smaller Industrial Cities in a Low-Carbon World, and contends that smaller, older cities such as Youngstown, Ohio and Flint, Michigan have more potential for a thriving future than the popular, “megaregions” of today. Her point: “[Smaller, Industrial Cities] are both big enough and small enough to manage a coming societal transition, in which people may have to live on constrained oil supplies and rely more on local networks for food and other goods.” Read Scott Carlson’s review of Tumber’s book in Urbanite here.

For another optimistic view of the future of a shrinking city, check out “So Cheap There’s Hope.” “Despite all the gloom,” writes The Economist “there is a bit of a sense that things might just be starting to turn, and the reason is simple: Detroit is now incredibly cheap. And that has drawn some admittedly rather pioneering types back into town.” And finally, check out this piece in The Dirt exploring the new Reimagining Cleveland sustainability vision which “aims to reinvest in dense urban neighborhoods, build “catalytic infrastructure,” and turn vacant, abandoned lots into green open space, commercial and residential farms, even vineyards.”

Check out these other sustainability and preservation-related blogs and articles:

Banks turn to demolition of foreclosed properties to ease housing-market pressures

“A handful of the nation’s largest banks have begun giving away scores of properties that are abandoned or otherwise at risk of languishing indefinitely and further dragging down already depressed neighborhoods…While some widespread demolitions could risk hollowing out the urban core of struggling cities such as Cleveland, advocates say that the homes being targeted are already unsalvageable and that the bulldozers are merely “burying the dead.” The task of plowing under the homes rests with the Cuyahoga County Land Reutilization Corp., which grew out of a 2009 state law aimed at creating “land banks” with the power and money to acquire unwanted properties and put them to better use - or at least put them out of their misery. The efforts have led other states to pursue similar laws to deal with their own foreclosure epidemics. New York passed a comparable measure this summer. Similar legislation is in the works in Georgia, Philadelphia and elsewhere.”

Paul Houle: No Vision for Vancouver’s History

Paul Houle, a member of the Heritage Vancouver Society, takes a look at the many ways in which Vision Vancouver has not protected the city’s heritage. One of his many examples includes the demolition of schools: “The Vision-dominated school board is also presiding over the potential demolition of dozens of heritage school buildings. Rather than seismically upgrading solid brick buildings that have stood the test of time, they have been opting to demolish and replace these structures with cheap seismic buildings that ultimately have a far shorter life expectancy than the buildings they replace. It is false economy and certainly not “green” to haul away tons of rubble to the landfill from needlessly demolished school buildings.”

How Wall Street can Transform the Built Environment

“University of Michigan professor and Brookings scholar Christopher Leinberger has been talking for a decade about the 19 standard real estate development products that contribute to an automobile-oriented environment. These products include the grocery anchored neighborhood center, suburban detached starter homes, big-box anchored power centers, multi-tenant bulk warehousing, self-storage facilities, and other single-use types...The real estate products Leinberger believes we’ll need going forward: ground-floor retail with rental apartments on top, hotel/convention centers with condos above and a subway corridor below.” In other words, a return to Main Street.

Rachel Bowdon is the program assistant for the Sustainability Program at the National Trust for Historic Preservation.

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One Response

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    November 10, 2011

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