Sustainability, Recent Past, and More from Tulsa


Yesterday I posted a link to a description of an interesting session on climate change at the National Trust for Historic Preservation’s annual conference in Tulsa. Here are a few more posts worth reading from Trust staffers who attended the conference.

One session whose description really resonated with me concerned sustainability issues relating to post-WWII buildings. Lately I’ve been giving two presentations, one on how historic preservation is the greenest form of development (recycling on a grand scale), and one on the importance of identifying and protecting our notable resources from the recent past. The two concepts are somewhat in conflict, as mid- to late-20th century buildings, on average, have much worse energy performance than buildings constructed before 1920 or after 2000 – so in one presentation I try to build people’s appreciation for recent resources, while in the other I point out that they, not the older buildings more easily recognized as “historic,” are a big problem from an energy perspective. The session on sustainability and modern buildings posed this dilemma as an opportunity, as described by Barbara Campagna:

…according to a 2003 Department of Energy report, 55% of America’s commercial building stock was built between 1945 and 1990. And the most inefficient buildings are those built during this same period. Given that almost 50% of the greenhouse gas emissions from the US come from the operations and construction of buildings, the only way we are going to make a demonstrable impact to the reduction of greenhouse gas emissions is through the greening of our modern heritage – most of which are not stellar icons like those discussed in this session.

The session looked at the philosophical and practical issues associated with making these decidedly un-green buildings, constructed when energy was cheap (ever try to open a window in a 1960s office building?) more environmentally friendly.

While the session Barbara Campagna described focused on iconic buildings, another session looked at very ordinary buildings: 1950s and 1960s neighborhoods. This was another topic of particular interest to me, as I’m working on a project with the Village of Pittsford to develop some guidance for their Architectural and Preservation Review Board to use when reviewing applications to alter post-war houses in the village (the entire Village of Pittsford is a locally designated preservation district, meaning that any exterior alteration to any building, regardless of age, must be reviewed by the APRB). Adrian Scott Fine points out that in Tulsa, as in many communities, preservationists and others are just starting to come to grips with the implications of post-war neighborhoods as potential historic resources:

In an already rabid private property rights environment, it’s a tough sell to put in place local historic or conservation district designation anywhere these days, let alone to do it for a 1950s ranch house neighborhood. A big part of the problem is us and our need to get over ourselves. The idea of saving places which are from the period of our living memory is affected by a number of prejudices, where taste all too often trumps judgment. History didn’t stop in 1945 or in 1975. We cannot pick and choose arbitrarily which era of our past to deem more important.

Finally, another of Barbara Campagna’s posts, this one a story about a tour of green rehabilitations in and around downtown Tulsa, resonated, for obvious reasons:

I learned that 60% of Tulsa’s downtown core is covered with parking lots and that the neighborhoods, communities and culture exist on the edge of downtown or the older “suburbs”. That encouraged me a bit, although I would like to understand sometime what happened to downtown Tulsa to devastate it to such an extent. There is no retail, few restaurants, no pharmacies, grocery stores, or dry cleaners anywhere in sight downtown. And while many downtowns around the country go dormant on the weekends, I have never seen a major city that is dormant during the week also…

…What I learned from this trip and from several other visits around the city over the weekend, was that there are islands of hope in the city. What’s missing right now is connection. Downtown has more holes than beauty and most of the innovation appears to be on the edge of downtown. But each of these projects represented the best in community activism and dedication to reviving place. Each of the people we met behind the tour and the projects are adaptive use warriors -– recognizing the importance of keeping what you can and looking for ways to bring culture and community to their city. I hope that the influx of 1,500+ preservationists will have some impact on the political will and that ten years from now the surface parking lots will be replaced with parks and green buildings, you will be able to find a pharmacy, grocery, restaurant, and store on every corner and the streets will be alive with activity during both the week and the weekend.

Sound familiar?

The National Trust conference will be in Buffalo in 2011 – we look forward to the opportunity to bring those 1,500 preservationists to Rochester while they’re right next door.

Posted by Katie Eggers Comeau, Advocacy Coordinator



Sustainability, Recent Past, and More from Tulsa


1 thought on “Sustainability, Recent Past, and More from Tulsa”

  1. Preservationists who continue to embrace piece meal policy solutions to cities like Tulsa are destined to fail … we need corridor designation for sustainable development that incorporates green design and targets investment and incentives into areas like downtown Tulsa. That involves the creation of a zero-energy impact calculator that includes historic preservation as one of the methods for reducing carbon footprint. Once designated, these corridors can take advantage of consortium investment principles that attract many different types of investors, vendors and businesses who want to make downtowns work again.


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