Historic Preservation is Smart Growth Conference on Smart Growth National Audubon
Society of New York Donovan D. Rypkema I suspect for many of you "historic preservation" is the local
retired librarians writing letters to the editor and struggling to raise funds to save the mansions of the local rich, dead white guy. Public infrastructure. Almost without exception historic buildings are where public infrastructure already exists. No new water lines, sewer lines, streets, curbs, gutters required. That's Smart Growth. Reason Two: Municipalities need financial resources if they are going to grow smart. Vacant, unused, and underused historic buildings brought back to life are also brought back as tax generating assets for a community.
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HERE IS A WONDERFUL SPEECH ON PRESERVATION AS SMART GROWTH THAT WAS SENT TO
ME BY BOB
CHRISTIE. IT'S LONG BUT IT IS REALLY WORTH YOUR TIME TO READ IT.
Subject: Preservation is Smart Growth
Here is a talk Don Rypkema gave on historic preservation and smart growth.
- Nancy Miller
Historic Preservation is Smart Growth
Conference on Smart Growth
National Audubon Society of New York
March 3, 1999
Donovan D. Rypkema
I suspect for many of you "historic preservation" is the local group of
retired librarians writing letters to the editor and struggling to raise
funds to save the mansions of the local rich, dead white guy. Well thank
good for those activists, those letters to the editor, those fund raising
events, and even for those rich, dead, white guys, because the properties
that have been saved are an important component of understanding ourselves
as people and constitute an irreplaceable collection of the art of
architecture and landscape architecture that has been created in our
country's relatively short history.
But that part of historic preservation-saving old mansions-represents an
insignificant percentage of preservation activities today. In fact, in the
last two decades, historic preservation has moved from an activity whose
goal was an end in itself-save old buildings in order to save old
buildingsto a broad based, multifaceted group of activities that uses our
built heritage not as an end in itself but as a means to broader and,
frankly more important ends. Here in New York State that has meant historic
preservation as a means for downtown revitalization, neighborhood
stabilization, attraction for tourism, job creation, film industry
production, small town revitalization, affordable housing, luxury housing,
education, transportation, and others. Saturday at the annual meeting of
the Preservation League of New York State we are releasing the results of a
sturdy conducted over the past year identifying the multitude of ways that
historic preservation contributes to the economy of the state of New York.
But I'm not here today either to talk about mansions or about economic
development. I'm here to suggest that historic preservation, in and of
itself, is one of the most important tools in the entire Smart Growth
movement. I'll title my remarks, Twenty Reasons in Twelve Minutes why
Historic preservation IS Smart Growth. And here, in no particular order,
are those reasons.
Reason One: Public infrastructure. Almost without exception historic
buildings are where public infrastructure already exists. No new water
lines, sewer lines, streets, curbs, gutters required. That's Smart Growth.
Reason Two: Municipalities need financial resources if they are going to
grow smart. Vacant, unused, and underused historic buildings brought backto
life are also brought back as tax generating assets for a community.
That's Smart Growth.
Reason Three: New activities-residential, retail, office, manufacturing-in
historic buildings inherently reinforces the viability of public
transportation. That's Smart Growth.
Reason Four: If we are to expect citizens to use their cars less, and use
their feet more, then the physical environment within which they live,
work, shop and play needs to have a pedestrian rather than a vehicular
orientation. That's Smart Growth.
Reason Five: Another element in the drive to encourage human movement by
means other than the automobile is the interconnection of uses. Based on
the foolishness of post World War II planning and development patterns,
uses have been sharply separated. Historic neighborhoods were built from
the beginning with a mix of uses in
close proximity. Cities with the foresight to readjust their zoning
ordinances to encourage integration of uses are seeing that
interconnectivity reemerging in historic areas. That's Smart Growth.
Reason Six: As a strong proponent of economic development I am certainly
glad the phrase is Smart Growth as opposed to no growth. Smart Growth
suggests that growth has positive benefits and I would agree that is true.
At the same time we cannot say we are having smart growth-regardless of how
well it is physically planned-if at the same time we are abandoning
existing assets. The encouraged reinvestment in historic areas in and of
itself revitalizes and revalues the nearby existing investment of both the
public and private sector. That's Smart Growth.
Reason Seven: We see periodic headlines about some real or imagined "Back
to the City" movement. Certainly people moving back to the core of a town
or city of any size has a positive impact on a whole range of environmental
goals. Well, across America, and in many places here in New York State,
people are indeed moving "back to the city." But almost nowhere is it back
to the city in general. In nearly every instance it is back to the historic
neighborhoods and historic buildings within the city. We do need to pay
attention to market patterns, and if it is back to historic neighborhoods
to which people are moving, we need to keep those neighborhoods viable for
that to happen. That's Smart Growth.
Reason Eight: Smart Growth ought to imply not just physical growth but
economic growth. And economic growth means new jobs. But who is creatin the
net new jobs in America? Not General Motors, or IBM, or Kodak. 85% ofall
net new jobs in America are created by small businesses. And for most small
businesses there are few costs that are controllable, but there is
one-occupancy. Barring massive public subsidies, you cannot build new and
rent cheap. Older and historic buildings often provide the affordable rent
that allows small businesses to get started. That's Smart Growth.
Reason Nine: Business districts are sustainably successful whern there is
a diversity of businesses. And that diverse business mix requires a diverse
range of rental rates. Only in downtowns and older commercial neighborhoods
is there such diversity. Try finding any rental rate diversity in the
regional shopping center or the so called office park. There ain't none.
Older business districts with their diverse rents are Smart Growth.
Reason Ten: Smart Growth ought to be about jobs. Let me distinguish new
construction from rehabilitation in terms of creating jobs. As a general
rule new construction is 50 percent labor and 50 percent materials.
Rehabilitation, on the other hand, is 60 to 70 percent labor. While we buy
an HVAC system from Ohio, sheetrock from Texas and timber from Oregon, we
buy the services of the carpenter and plumber, painter and electrician from
across the street. They subsequently spend that paycheck for a hair cut,
membership in the local Y and a new car, resulting in a significantly
grater local economic impact dollar for dollar than new construction. The
rehabilitation of older structures is Smart Growth.
Reason Eleven: Solid waste landfill [is] with increasingly expensive in
both dollars and environmental quality. Sixty to sixty-five percent of most
landfill sites is made up of construction debris. And much of that waste
comes from the razing of existing structures. Preserving instead of
demolishing our inventory of historic buildings reduces that construction
waste. Preserving instead of demolishing our inventory of historic
buildings is Smart Growth.
Reason Twelve: Its critics have pointed out that the so called New
Urbanism is neither new nor urban. But I don't think anyone here would
dispute that in most instances, at least, New Urbanist development is
fully compatible with the goals of Smart Growth. I would argue that New
Urbanism reflects good urban design principles. But those principles have
already been at work for a century or more in our historic neighborhoods.
The sensitive renewal of those neighborhoods is Smart Growth. So are you
starting to get the picture? Let me be briefer with the rest of the list.
Reason Thirteen: Smart Growth advocates a density of use. Historic
residential and commercial neighborhoods are built to be dense.
Reason Fourteen: Historic buildings themselves are not liabilities as
often seen by public and private sector demolition advocates, but are
assets not yet returned to productive use.
Reason Fifteen: The rehabilitation of older and historic neighborhoods is
putting jobs were the workers already are.
Reason Sixteen: Around the country historic preservation is the one form of
economic development that is simultaneously community development.
Reason Seventeen: Reinvigorating historic neighborhoods reinforces
existing schools and allows them to recapture their important educational,
social and cultural role on a neighborhood level.
Reason Eighteen: No new land is consumed when rehabilitating a historic
Reason Nineteen: The Diversity of housing sites, qualities, styles and
characteristics of historic neighborhoods stands in sharp contrast to the
monolithic character of current subdivisions. The diversity of housing
opinions means a diversity of human beings who can live in historic
Reason Twenty: Historic preservation constitutes a demand side approach to
Smart Growth. I'm not at all opposed to acquiring greenbelts around cities
or development rights on agricultural properties. Those are certainly
important and valuable tools in a comprehensive Smart Growth strategy. But
they only reduce the supply of land to be developed-they do not address the
demand for the use of that land. The conversion of a historic warehouse
into 40 residential units reduces the demand for ten acres of farm land.
The economic[ally] revitalization of Main Street reduces the demand for
another strip center. The restoration of empty 1920's skyscraper reduces
the demand for another glass and chrome building at the office park. Again,
I don't mean to be remotely critical of supply side strategies, but without
demand side responses their successes will be limited at best.
Finally, I think most of you would acknowledge that Maryland is among the
states leading the way in creating comprehensive Smart Growth policies.
Many of you are probably familiar with this publication, Smart Growth and
Neighborhood Conservation: A Legacy for Our Children which enumerates
forty-seven specific policy initiatives to encourage Smart Growth. I went
through the entire list, and here's what I found: of the
forty-seveninitiatives, historic preservation was a key component of
thirty-two of them. But even more importantly, if communities had a strong
historic preservation strategy, the goals of 44 of the 47 are automatically
Historic preservation IS Smart Growth. For years activists in the historic
c preservation movement have said, "We need to get closer to the
environmentalists. They've been successful in raising public consciousness
about the issues, and getting legislation put into place to advance those
aims." I have no quarrel with that strategy. But I would suggest to you
environmentalists, that your strong support for historic preservation in
your communities would, in and of itself, significantly advance your
environmental goals. Further, I would suggest that a Smart Growth approach
that does not include historic preservation high on the agenda is not only
missing a valuable strategy, but, like the historic buildings themselves,
an irreplaceable one.
Thank you for allowing me to participate with you here today. Thank you
June 22, 1999
My sincere apologies, but John Cafferty & The Beaver Brown Band will not be
able to perform for you in New London. They are regular performers at the
Mohegan Sun Casino and our contact for the Casino has declared your
engagement a conflict.
Again, my apologies.
PO Box 31
Lancaster, NH 03584
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