Speaker discusses economic, environmental benefits of saving historic buildings


Being green is all the rage.

But the term "green" is not a synonym for sustainable development, said Donovan D. Rypkema, a principal with PlaceEconomics, a real estate and economic development consulting firm based in Washington, D.C.

Rypkema was in Steamboat Springs on Thursday to give a presentation about the importance of historical preservation - economically and environmentally. And about 20 representatives from Colorado Springs to Hayden and places in between also made the trip to Centennial Hall to hear Rypkema speak.

While Rypkema applauded the efforts of those touting "green" construction, he said historic preservation often went unmentioned and that it shouldn't.

"Historic preservation is the ultimate form of recycling," he said.

To support his argument, Rypkema offered the definition for sustainable development: the ability to meet our own needs without prejudicing the ability of future generations to meet their own needs.

He said revitalizing a downtown area preserves land; rehabilitating a historic building reduces waste generation; and reusing a historic building increases recycling.

The city was awarded a certified local government grant from the Colorado Historical Society to bring Rypkema to town. Rypkema previously has spoken at the Steamboat Springs Economic Summit.

The city has struggled with the historic preservation issue in recent years. In February, the City Council passed a revised historic preservation ordinance. Some properties are subject to a historic preservation review process, but property owners aren't obligated to adhere to the resulting recommendations. The revised ordinance subjects fewer properties to the review process because it applies only to structures 50 years or older that also are eligible for listing on a new city historic register.

During his presentation Thursday, Rypkema explained the concept of embodied energy - the total expenditure of energy involved in the creation of a building and its materials - to help drive home his point.

So when historic buildings are demolished, he said the thousands of dollars absorbed by previous generations to create that structure are just thrown away. On top of that, materials used to create modern buildings including plastic, steel, vinyl and aluminum consume more energy than building materials used in the past such as brick, plaster, concrete and timber.

And they don't last as long. Rypkema said today's buildings are constructed to last 25 to 40 years, while the buildings they replace sometimes are more than a century old.

Add that to the fact that building debris constitutes about one-third of the waste generated in the U.S., and there's already an argument made for historic preservation, he said.

Rypkema added that rehabilitation accounts for more labor and fewer materials than new construction, which generates more local jobs, more local household income and more state and local taxes.

And, he said, property values in local historic districts appreciate at a greater pace than the local market and are less vulnerable in economic downturns.

Rypkema said he's not "anti-development." Not all older buildings in a community should be saved to prevent new construction, but he said all options should be weighed.

He said, however, that the goal of any community should be to continue improving itself. So when a new building is constructed, Rypkema said it doesn't have to be the best, but that it should be better than that community's average building.

That hit home with Jason Peasley, a Steamboat Springs city planner. Peasley said he wanted to hear Rypkema's presentation because he is interested in the future of the city and maintaining its character.

"The most poignant thing was continuing to make this town better with new buildings and preservation of old buildings, to raise the bar," he said.


Tracy Barnett 7 years, 9 months ago

Rypkema is a powerful, convincing and easy-to-listen-to speaker. His points about the reuse and adaptation of historic buildings to meet toady's needs should be well taken by the property owners and developers in this town. His point about the time it takes a new energy efficient building to pay off the energy consumption required to create and transport materials, construct and use that building was eye-opening. According to Rypkema, typically it takes 35-50 years to gain energy benefit for an "energy-efficient" building to start showing positive energy cash flow. Hmmmm. How efficient and "green" is that?


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