Huge Fact

December 14, 2007 Economics, Sustainability Comments (0) 1342

Dick Moe, President of the National Trust made a FANTASTIC speech last night on the occasion of receiving the Vincent Scully Prize at the National Building Museum. The basic point: “Preservation IS Sustainability” This is obvious stuff to those of us who deal with old buildings – they have embodied energy and if we want to slow down climate change, we need to save buildings. Dick had some killer statistics which again are obvious if you think about it. An excerpt from Moe’s speech:

“But according to the EPA, transportation – cars, trucks, trains, airplanes – accounts for just 27% of America‚s greenhouse gas emissions, while 48% – almost twice as much – is produced by the construction and operation of buildings. If you remember nothing else I say tonight, remember this: Nearly half of the greenhouse gases we Americans send into the atmosphere comes from our buildings. In fact, more than 10% of the entire world’s greenhouse gas emissions is produced by America’s buildings – but the current debate on climate change does not come close to reflecting that huge fact. The message is clear: Any solution to climate change must address the need to reduce emissions by being smarter about how we use our buildings and wiser about land use.” Continue Reading

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Preservation Religion

December 12, 2007 Economics, Vision and Style Comments (0) 1044

The preservation of religious structures has been on my mind because I lectured on the subject in Planning class Monday, and also because I met Thursday with Bob Jaeger and Tuomi Forrest of Partners for Sacred Places, a national organization that helps religious congregations fulfill their mission with their buildings, which is to say that they help save religious buildings. And I was thinking about it because I was in Washington Friday and the Post reported on the landmark designation of the Brutalist Christian Science Church pictured here.

The church was designated over the objections of its owners, something that can’t be done in Chicago thanks to a last-minute, one-sentence amendment duct-taped to the Chicago Landmarks Ordinance 20 years ago. Twenty years ago is when the “church” preservation issue emerged as a national concern and I developed some expertise by virtue of experience in the issue, being involved in local efforts to save Holy Family and St. Mary of the Angels churches (successfully), doing a citywide survey of historic houses of worship in 1990, and serving on task forces and committees that created a local “church” preservation group, Inspired Partnerships, that operated through the 1990s. We also tried to challenge the “church exception” to the landmarks ordinance and failed, not because our 1st and 14th amendment issues were wrong, but because the case was not ripe. Continue Reading

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Heritage Areas

November 24, 2007 Economics, Historic Districts, History Comments (0) 1110

The AP posted a story today about heritage areas, because Congress approved ten last year, bringing the total to 37 with six more on the way. I was fortunate enough to get my career started working on the very first, the I & M Canal National Heritage Corridor and I was in the room when President Reagan signed it into law in August 1984. The picture is the Gaylord Building in the heart of the I & M Canal at Lockport, where I still serve as Chair of the Site Council.

So anyway, I have some experience in this business. The necessarily condensed article from the Associated Press is quite good, although it is always intriguing to see how “news” is made. The curiosity here is the conflict, which every good story needs, but is hard to come by in something as broad-based as heritage areas. Still, thanks to some “budget hawks and property-rights advocates” a record number of “no” votes were recorded on the latest round of heritage areas. Continue Reading

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Saved By Technology II

November 1, 2007 Economics, Technology Comments (0) 988

I have taught Preservation Planning for more than a dozen years and I always include a lecture called “Churches, Theaters and Other Difficult Buildings”. These buildings are “difficult” because they are functionally obsolescent: They were designed for large public assemblies in a pre-automobile era, and nowadays assemblies don’t happen so much. Vaudeville movie theaters combined live and cinematic entertainment and we don’t do that anymore either. Movie theaters today need to have lots of screens for maybe 200 people each, and even big markets like Chicago can only support a handful of live performance venues of 4,000 seats or so. Churches become obsolescent when denominations change, as they have in Chicago neighborhoods for over 40 years, and despite the lingering religiosity of Americans, many people are in exurban superchurches or use religiosity as a wedge against preserving historical features of their buildings. Continue Reading

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The Sustainability of History

September 16, 2007 Chicago Buildings, Economics Comments (0) 755

When I began this blog two years ago the big news was Hurricane Katrina and New Orleans, so perhaps it is time for another look. My friend and fellow National Trust Trustee Jack Davis had a very good piece in the Tribune’s editorial section today about New Orleans, one of his two hometowns (the other is Chicago). It was accompanied by two excellent maps of historic 19th century New Orleans and the area that escaped flooding following Hurrican Katrina two years ago. The maps matched up perfectly: 18th and 19th century New Orleans residents, developers and leaders had built a sustainable community on the high ground safe from flooding. Most of what flooded were areas that had been expensively and artificially drained in the 20th century – basically disasters waiting to happen. Davis was weighing in on the battle to rebuild the modern areas in spite of the overwhelming evidence that they will continue to be vulnerable. Part of the challenge is racial and political, as the new areas were strongly poor and black, and part is personal and emotional – he describes lovingly restored homes in virtually abandoned neighborhoods. People forge a bond to a place that defies logic. I was reminded of my friend Myron Stachiw’s project documenting the people that returned to their homes around Chernobyl in the Ukraine following the nuclear disaster despite the fact that they were demonstrably endangering their lives by doing so. Davis also points out that the racial equation is not simple either, as New Orleans today has a sudden and significant Hispanic population it never had before (despite being briefly part of Spain). Continue Reading

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A Future Reverie

June 19, 2007 Blog, Chicago Buildings, China Preservation, Economics Comments Off on A Future Reverie 1106

Since the 2016 Olympics the tourists have been flocking to Chicago. Eighty percent from China and India, where the currency rates make an American tour affordable. More and more of the middle class are enjoying a journey to the other side of the world, with the hopes of finding an exotic locale, rich and authentic local experiences, the romance of century-old architecture and native peoples with colorful local dress, customs and food….

The Chicagoans under their Dear Leader Daley have festooned the downtown with modern artworks and massive landscaping programs to show off the late-19th century architecture for which the city is famous. This does not disappoint, as much of it was refurbished in the 1990-2005 period. The “Loop,” still circled by a quaint collection of elevated railroads, remains the best – and most scenic – way to travel around the inner city. Continue Reading

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Oak Park on the Make

April 30, 2007 Chicago Buildings, Economics Comments Off on Oak Park on the Make 1323

Oak Park recently elected a new Village Board that promises to get development moving again, and they have an early opportunity to allow the demolition of a very nice c.1920 commercial corner building for a parking lot with a Walgreen’s in the back. Will this demolition prove their development-friendly mettle?

One could argue that being on Madison Street, where almost every historic building is already demolished, there is no context. As Michael Moran of Preservation Chicago likes to note, this argument is like going to a dentist who says “several of your teeth are missing – why not get rid of the rest of them?” Continue Reading

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April 3, 2007 Chicago Buildings, Economics Comments (0) 893

The Grave Dancer bought the Tribune. Appropriate, I suppose, that the billionaire collector of distressed properties, having divested himself of real estate at the tip of a century bubble, should dive into the distressed world of old media. It is even oddly encouraging for those of us who like to sit on the couch or at the kitchen table with morning coffee and read the paper. I read lots of internet news, but never on the couch or kitchen table (or toilet). Technology is additive. Continue Reading

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McMansion World

March 21, 2007 Economics, Historic Districts Comments Off on McMansion World 1160

Morning news: McDonalds is suing the Oxford English Dictionary over the word “McJobs,” describing low-paying menial jobs without hope of advancement. This made me wonder if the golden arch attorneys would be heading after “McMansions” next.

McMansions are what follows the teardown. They are franchised, mass-produced homes that are “mansions” in size and price only. They are McMansions because, design-wise, they are collections of signifiers, generally assembled artlessly, like the eponymous sandwiches. Palladian windows. Curving front staircases. Quoined corners. Big flat warpy windows with fake muntins that look like scotch tape because people read “divided lights” as “classy”. Balustrades, columns and pediments, the bacon, lettuce and cheese of Classical style (heavy on the cheese). They also tend to be SUPER-SIZED. Entrances tend toward the subtlety of a streetwalker, with similar effect. Like the burgers, they have all the outward signs of taste but the inside is nothing but architectural trans-fats: pressboard and PVC. Continue Reading

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Oak Park settles down a bit

February 9, 2007 Chicago Buildings, Economics, Historic Districts Comments (0) 1264

Well, from the tenor of the panel discussion in Oak Park this morning, the Fox News-style polarization of preservation has died down a bit. This is a good thing. A developer, a village president/architect, a local architect and two preservationists made up a panel that was distinguished more by how much they agreed than by the false “Preservation or Development” dichotomy that was set up.

The biggest laughs came to Jonathan Fine of Preservation Chicago who said the title “Historic Preservation: Too Much of a Good Thing?” reminded him of “Women’s Suffrage: Too Much of a Good Thing?” or “Child Labor Laws: Too Much of a Good Thing?”. He is right that preservation has to keep justifying itself. Continue Reading

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