Written by Nancy Finegood
America the beautiful, or America the throw away society?
Here in our country, there is very little that we value enough not to throw away. This value system extends from our consumer goods to our families to our very livelihoods. When you think about it, our current economic crisis is in part caused by our willingness to throw any and everything away. We have outsourced the manufacturing of all kinds of goods, as well as the creation of innovative new technologies. We have convinced ourselves that only “new, better, improved” are the labels that will lead us to a healthier, more energy efficient future. We have also convinced ourselves that getting it cheaper is more important than having vibrant economic communities based on self sufficiency and sound conservation principles.
To do its part in reversing wasteful trends in a throw-away-and-buy-it-new world, and to reinforce the values of skilled workmanship, self sufficiency, and creating opportunities for economic development in the local economy, the Michigan Historic Preservation Network, partnering with the City of Kalamazoo, offered a first-of-its-kind course on the rehabilitation of historic windows. More than 20% of the housing stock in the U.S. was built before the 1950's. Many of these homes have features which cannot be easily duplicated. In fact, the next time you walk by a large Queen Ann with a wrap-around porch or look at a building with a protruding bay with rounded windows, be aware that the we have basically lost the expertise to manufacture curved glass for these housing applications.
The intensive, two-week historic windows rehabilitation course that we developed trained 12 individuals from diverse backgrounds (age, race, gender and Michigan geography) in skills which can provide them with a good source of income. In fact, unlike most businesses, a window rehabber can start a business with a minimal investment. What most individuals don’t realize is that old windows in good repair combined with storm windows are as energy efficient as any newer window product. Additionally, rehabilitation of an older window minimizes the amount of material that goes into a landfill by keeping the original window in place. Preservation work helps the environment and the local economy, all while maintaining our connections with the past.
Our students are enthusiastic about the skills they learned and will work as preservation and rehabilitation ambassadors. We must now create enthusiasm for local solutions to our local issues. I think the place to start is with our value system. We’ve thrown enough away. We still believe in miracles – just ask Gregory Perry, the youngest student in the program at 18 years old. It’s now time for rebuilding, rehabilitating and preserving what is valuable within ourselves and our communities.
Nancy Finegood is the executive director of the Michigan Historic Preservation Network.
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