Would you believe me if I told you that your historic district was the greenest place in town?
You could rightly say that historic preservation is the “original green!” Some of the freshest thoughts in architecture and development today is that historic properties have a lot of intrinsic value.
Beyond physical history that we can all experience and touch, historic buildings are hallmarks of resilience and adaptability. They were built to last from quality materials. Along with other existing buildings, caring for them plays a large part in reducing greenhouse gas emissions. They are also really cool.
We will take a journey across what happens in your town’s historic Main Street districts and historic residential neighborhoods. We will look at the process of renewing and revitalizing these places through the art of combining historic preservation with the best building science and new neighborhood redevelopment practices.
Pairing yesterday’s traditions, renewable materials, and solid bones with today’s best ideas and technology is a sure way to have the greenest building in town.
Historic District Revitalization
Main Street America™
Main Street America™ revitalization strategy and redevelopment has allowed thousands of communities across America to revitalize their historic downtown areas. The movement was launched by National Trust for Historic Preservation in 1980.
If your town is not already a Main Street America™ community, visit a few near you and see grassroots community redevelopment happening. I promise you will meet some great people there who care for each other, and their community.
Historic District Redevelopment
Placemaking is the art of putting people back together and the historic district where they belong. There is a hidden density and potential for redevelopment in your Main Street areas, Historic Preservation become the catalyst for sustainable redevelopment.
Jim Lindberg, Director of the Preservation Green Lab, says we must “capitalize on the inherent value of built assets to improve social, environmental and economic performance. “ Quoting Frank Lloyd Wright, he commented that “places evolve and scale inspires stewardship.”
Modern historic preservation and adaptive reuse go together like peas and carrots. Formally, recognized as worthy of receiving historic tax-credits, building rehabilitation is the modern accepted standard for treatment of historic property. So long as the “character defining features” rehabilitation allows a certain level of modernization. This includes the use of the building.
I have seen historic home converted to amazing coffee-shops, and a historic downtown bank converted to a fitness center. That is a drop in the bucket. The more unique businesses an creative personalities belong in historic districts.
Combining residential dwelling and commercial enterprises is one of the most traditional, historic Main Street principles. Consider the shop-keeper that lives about his business.
Along with redeveloping upper floors with modern lofts, downtown buildings offer attractive options for live/work situations. It seems that history repeats itself!
Infill development is low-impact, because it uses existing infrastructure. Of course, this can work anywhere there is an empty lot, the historic district offers a special opportunity. Many of the historic commercial buildings have been lost over the years, and rebuilding downtown can yield the highest ROI in town. Historic district residential neighborhoods not only have charm - they have attractive features like sidewalks, front porches, architectural style, alleys and accessory dwelling units. These neighborhoods are ready for redevelopment.
Placemaking & Downtown Design
Placemaking is the art of putting people back together, and downtown is the best opportunity to develop new placemaking projects.
According to the Project for Public Spaces - the pioneers of this approach - Placemaking is “the art and science of developing public spaces that attract people, build community by bringing people together, and create local identity.”
Downtown placemaking can be led by the local Main Street group, other civic groups, individuals, or even the City. Good placemaking adds community profit and increases the vitality of the downtown.
For a community to truly reach its potential, it is essential to have a revitalized Main Street and historic district.
The State of Oklahoma is fortunate to have a unique placemaking team based out of the University of Oklahoma’s College of Architecture. Although still newly formed, the Institute for Quality Communities, has an impressive body of work under their belt.
Historic preservation is inherently green, and it can be even greener. Historic Preservation and high-performance green architecture are not mutually exclusive. Together you can have the greenest building in town.
Resilient Design & Inherent Energy Efficiency
Historic properties are not energy hogs like many would like you to believe. They were built with great craftsmanship and quality, renewable materials.
After basic repairs and maintenance are performed, they can be retrofitted with modern materials and systems to make them very efficient, indeed.
The Oklahoma Main Street Program’s “Historic Building Energy Efficiency Poster” is the best place to get an overview.
Energy Efficiency Retrofits
Whole-building energy efficiency retrofits can reduce operating costs and improve property value, but knowing where to begin can be a challenge. Following a staged, whole-building approach is the best way to optimize energy use for your historic property.
After properties are retrofitted to minimize energy use, it is still possible make a historic district more resilient by adding energy independence. Imagine all the rooftops of your historic downtown serving the surrounding area with power. Large batteries could assist in shifting peak usage times for the area served, and provide power in the event of a disaster.
Use Google Project Sunroof to analyze your property's potential for solar energy.
Another thought is to consider geothermal heat pump systems for downtown districts. Sharing ownership and usage of the geothermal wells is an excellent way to access cheap, reliable renewable energy.