Mike Francis, a member of The Oregonian's editorial board, had an editorial published Saturday that explores the intersection of sustainability and historic preservation.
Francis tells of meeting recently with David J. Brown and Anthea Hartig, the executive vice president and the western director for the National Trust for Historic Preservation, when the pair were in Portland last week. (Individuals and groups continually seek out the paper's editorial board to make their case for something.)
Brown's primary message was, as Francis recalls, "that saving and reusing buildings is more environmentally friendly and economically sound than tearing them down, even if they are replaced by the greenest, LEEDiest structures imaginable."
Brown cited a National Trust-commissioned report by Rutgers University that examines the economic effects of the Federal Historic Tax Credit.
The report concludes that the Federal Historic Tax Credit is a highly efficient job creator, and has accounted for the creation of 1.8 million new jobs over the life of the program. The report also finds that the Federal Historic Tax Credit has generated jobs more efficiently than other stimulus options, and that the economic activity leveraged by credit returns more tax revenue to the U.S. Treasury than the cost of implementing the program.
"The case for preservation improving sustainability is more intuitive," Francis writes. He goes on to say:
"Of course it's less wasteful to reuse a building than to tear it apart, cart away the rubble, and import and erect new piles of steel, glass and concrete. That was what so maddening (to me, at least) with the arguments of those who wanted to tear down Memorial Coliseum to erect a "green" baseball stadium. As much as I appreciate the presence of baseball, beer and warm summer evenings, it seemed crazy to demolish a perfectly usable building a couple of miles away from the Beavers' current home to relocate the team. The only argument in favor seemed to be that nobody had yet figured out how to put the coliseum to use since the Trail Blazers moved next door, so better to tear the place down than re-use it.
That kind of thinking is what threatens a lot of the places where we work, live and play. Sometimes, we manage to make the best of it, as when civic leaders created Pioneer Courthouse Square on the block that housed a grand Portland hotel until it was demolished for parking. Sometimes, we do a halfway decent thing, such as pouring money into the Pioneer Courthouse next door, although it was an enormously bad idea to, essentially, privatize the place by evicting the post office and carving out an exclusive underground parking lot for the visiting judges there.
Most often, sadly, we tear down something of cultural, emotional or historical value in order to make way for something else, usually of lesser value. When that happens, we're all the poorer for it."
Of course one of the key landmarks under threat of demolition or radical alteration Francis talks about, Memorial Coliseum, still has its fate hanging in the balance.
It is arguable that all three of the remaining finalists selected by the mayor and PDC's Stakeholder Advisory Committee are at least partially preservation oriented in that they preserve the exterior. But only the Blazers' Jumptown proposal actually retains the inside of the building as an arena without compromising the integrity of its signature bowl-in-a-glass-box design. Oh, and in this Great Recession, retaining the Coliseum as an arena is the cheapest option and the most sustainable. And have you been in this building with the curtain open, like it was meant to be? I've met few Portlanders, even the natives, who actually have.
As it happens, National Public Radio ran a story on Morning Edition a few days ago ("Building Law Seen As Threat To California History") about the intersection of sustainability and preservation. The story profiled Paul Song, who, after demolishing his home, is now building a $1 million LEED-Platinum house which will be the first “100% energy-independent” home in Santa Monica. The piece went on to quote Linda Dishman, Director of the Los Angeles Conservancy, saying that the U.S. Green Building Council’s LEED standards don’t do a particularly good job of recognizing the value of building reuse.
However, the NPR story also, in the opinion of Portland's Ralph DiNola of Green Building Services (as written on his blog), "painted a picture that new green buildings can outperform historic buildings and that rehabilitation of existing buildings takes more time or costs more than demolition and new construction, while also leaving the impression that LEED does not adequately credit historic rehabilitation projects compared to new construction projects."
DiNola goes on to look at LEED and historic buildings in his post:
"Perhaps rather than focusing on our desire to have LEED award more points to historic building rehabilitation projects (hopefully they will based upon more advanced LCA methods in the near future), let’s look at the other LEED points that a project can already earn through rehabilitation. Under LEED for New Construction and Major Renovation (LEED NC), a rehabilitation project can actually earn four points for building reuse. In LEED for Core & Shell (LEED CS), there are five points available plus an additional one point if 95% of the building is reused for a total of six points. Elsewhere in the rating system there are other nods to existing building rehabilitation projects, such as Energy and Atmosphere Credit 1. Here, existing buildings get more points for the same level of energy performance compared to new buildings. For instance in LEED NC, if a rehabilitation projects reduces design energy cost by 24% it will earn nine points, while a new construction project will only earn seven points. That’s two more points for historic buildings. There are also two points available for materials reuse, and we have found that existing buildings more often incorporate salvaged materials than new construction projects. There are also additional opportunities for credit in LEED in the Innovation and Regional Priority credit categories. In Portland, Oregon for instance, the Building Reuse credit is identified as a Regional Priority credit, thus offering one bonus point to projects that earn this credit. This intentional allocation of points suggests that LEED strategically favors, rather than challenges, reuse, as is sometimes implied."
"Portland has served as a virtual laboratory for sustainable preservation, yet we still struggle with these issues," he concludes. "These are indeed exciting times for historic preservation advocates and green building professionals as American values shift from valuing our history to valuing the new."