The Intersection of Preservation and Sustainability

Portland, Oregon is a city with a well-deserved reputation for livability and sustainable development.   I visited Portland late last week and was reminded again of how much this community can teach other American cities about building an environmental consciousness and offering transportation options that decrease reliance on the automobile.

In touring the city with friends and colleagues, I saw vibrant historic neighborhoods around an active downtown.  But I also learned of  preservation battles that ended with perfectly good buildings being demolished – even though preservation was the sustainable alternative.  Preservationists in Portland often feel left out of the discussions – and the decisions – on questions of livability.  It shouldn’t be that way.

While in Portland, I joined two colleagues in a discussion with Mike Francis, editorial board member at The Oregonian. We talked about the intersection of preservation and sustainability, as well as preservation’s ability to prime the pump for economic development.

In a piece entitled, To Be Sustainable, Use What You Have, Francis makes the case for preservation as a key to economic revitalization, sustainable development, and livability in Portland.  Here’s a section of his editorial on sustainability:

The case for preservation improving sustainability is more intuitive: 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.

As cities across the country look for ways to enact policies that are environmentally sensitive, the intersection of historic preservation and sustainability – as Mike Francis suggests – is a great place to begin.

More to come…


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