Fall 2012 Update

National Trust for Historic Preservation and Urban Land Institute Partner to Promote Building Reuse   

The Environmental Protection Agency estimates that more than one billion square feet of buildings are demolished in the United States each year. Yet what gets bulldozed, where demolitions tend to happen, and – perhaps most importantly – why these demolitions happen, has never been well documented.

The National Trust for Historic Preservation and the Urban Land Institute (ULI) recently announced a new partnership designed to advance the preservation and reuse of older and historic buildings in major U.S. cities. Focusing initially on the City of Los Angeles, the two organizations will survey demolition trends in LA, and identify the most common obstacles to building reuse.  This research will then be used to inform the development of recommendations for remedies – such as public policy tools or alternate investment strategies – to address these challenges.

This groundbreaking research is essential to helping communities take advantage of the environmental and economic advantages that can be associated with building reuse, as well as opportunities for creative place making that help give cities a competitive edge.    

Los Angeles was selected as the pilot based on its rich stock of historic resources and its legacy of favorable policy towards reuse.  The city’s powerful Adaptive Reuse Ordinance, for example, has helped facilitate the conversion of dozens of historic and underutilized structure since 1999.  Further, Los Angeles recently has seen a large infusion of mass transit funding, making it fertile ground for studying many of the challenges associated with balancing preservation and density-related development.

Read official Press Release here.

Preservation Green Lab Analyzes Chicago Demolition Trends in Preparation for Partnership with ULI

In preparation for the ULI and National Trust Partnership Building Reuse Project, the Preservation Green Lab recently completed a pilot mapping project that analyzed demolitions in the City of Chicago. The project’s methodology and lessons learned will serve to inform future demolition mapping in Los Angeles and other cities.

Pilot Project Overview       

Using data from the City of Chicago, we used GIS to map the approximately 8,700 demolitions that took place within the city from 2004 to June 2012. Through this mapping process and analysis we hoped to better understand where demolitions tend to happen in the city, whether buildings from certain decades of construction are more at risk, and whether certain types of buildings are more vulnerable than others. This analysis also sought to understand some of the potential drivers of demolition.

Our key initial findings included:

  • Our preliminary analysis suggests that 33% of all demolitions are occurring within TIF districts – suggesting that TIF designation may potentially encourage bulldozing of existing buildings.
  • Landmark districts are doing a good job of protecting buildings—fewer than 1% of demolitions occur within historic districts. Though relatively little of Chicago (by total land) is designated as a historic district, approximately 18% of all building demolitions happen within ¼ mile of a historic district.
  • Buildings built between 1890 and 1920 appear more vulnerable to demolitions than other eras of construction.

We look forward to sharing the maps, other findings and potential policy implications with you in early 2013. 

Preservation Green Lab Launches Place-Based Sustainability Metrics for Older Neighborhoods Project with support of The Summit Foundation  

If some level of density is good, is more necessarily better?  Discussions about the quantity and quality of density that is needed to make successful communities are moving rapidly into the mainstream of sustainable urban thinking.  Recent articles by thought leaders such as the Urban Land Institute’s Ed McMahon, NRDC’s Kaid Benfield, and Richard Florida (leader of the “creative class” movement), suggest that simply increasing the number of people living or working per acre is not sufficient for improving community outcomes. As Florida notes in his article The Limits of Density, new tall commercial buildings are not necessarily a boon to cities’ economic competitiveness: 

“Stop and think for a moment: What kind of environments spur new innovation, start-ups and high-tech industries? Can you name one instance, one, of this sort of creative destruction occurring in high-rise office or residential towers, in skyscraper districts? The answer is no . . . Similarly, you don’t find great arts districts and music scenes in high-rise districts but in older, historic residential, industrial or warehousing districts such as New York’s Greenwich Village or Soho, or San Francisco’s Mission District, which were built before elevators enabled multi-story construction.”

Yet while the important role of older buildings in incubating creative new businesses may seem intuitively obvious, the subject has been little studied. Thanks to generous funding by The Summit Foundation the Green Lab is embarking on a project that will supply research to better inform this dialogue. Our forthcoming Placed Based Sustainability Metrics for Older Neighborhoods project will gather and map geo-coded data in order to explore the relationship between older, finer-grained neighborhoods and a range of economic and social outcomes in contemporary American cities. Using newly available data and visualization tools, this project will test key ideas first introduced by the renowned urbanist Jane Jacobs fifty years ago about the positive role that older more diverse urban blocks play in facilitating social relationships, connections to place and entrepreneurial economic activity. The project is being developed in partnership with ArtPlace, Gehl Architects, and Mariela Alfonzo of State of Place.

Complementing The Greenest Building Report and the Green Lab’s new research initiative with the Urban Land Institute, this project will generate a critical data that will help to fill a gap in our collective understanding of how built fabric influences social and economic outcomes. The ultimate goal is to use this knowledge to help decision makers better understand the way different kinds of built fabric may influence their communities, and to develop policy and financial tools that will help to better balance new growth with conservation of valuable older buildings.

Boeing Commits to Continued Support of Preservation Green Lab’s Outcome-Based Energy Code Demonstration Program in Seattle  

We are thrilled to announce that The Boeing Company has renewed its support of the Preservation Green Lab’s outcome-based energy code work in 2013. Boeing’s continued support ensures that the Green Lab will be able to keep driving the creation of a new energy code model for existing buildings, allowing building owners and designers to improve existing structures and reduce costs using an energy code alternative that measures actual energy saved.

The City of Seattle is expected to revise its energy codes in 2013. In anticipation of these changes, the Green Lab is working to encourage the inclusion of an outcome based energy code path that is more in tune with the needs of existing and historic buildings.  The alternative code, which is currently being piloted in three Seattle buildings, offers the opportunity to save important features of older buildings, while still achieving Seattle’s desired energy performance targets. We will keep you posted throughout the year on project developments.

Read more about outcome-based energy codes here.

Preservation Green Lab releases Report Comparing Window Replacement and Retrofit  

In October, the Preservation Green Lab released an important new report called Saving Windows Saving Money, Evaluating the Energy Performance of Window Replacement and Retrofit. The study offers valuable advice for homeowners, designers and building professionals weighing the financial and energy tradeoffs between replacing or repairing older, less efficient windows. Made possible through the generous funding of the National Center for Preservation Training and Technology, the report concludes that a number of existing window retrofit strategies come very close to the energy performance of high-performance replacement windows at a fraction of the cost.