Pillars and Pediments – Musings on the advantages of heritage preservationBy Mary Solomon"Looks can be deceiving"
According to the Architectural Conservancy of Ontario, heritage value comes in many forms. Heritage significance can be the design value, historical association or contextual importance or all three. A heritage architectural gem is often a diamond in the rough. Peter Roos of the Newport Restoration Foundation comments that poverty preserves – many historical buildings have “accumulated crust of centuries of neglect, their true faces completely obscured”. Criteria and standards for establishing significance exist at all government levels.
"New versus restored"
The argument to build a new building versus restoring a heritage building is well known in Meaford as part of the debate around the restoration of Meaford Hall. Construction preservation has several advantages over new construction:
- Structural costs on an old building make up 5 to 12 percent of total project costs, half the average expenditures for new construction (Historic Preservation in the 1990’s, Philidelphia, 1993 from www.arconserv.ca)
- Unique features of older buildings are extremely expensive to create on newer buildings. “Historic buildings, with their authentic and original architectural details, have that “something that modern buildings lack.” (www.restoringheritage.com)
- Preserving rather than demolishing our heritage buildings reduces construction waste. Construction waste is estimated to make up 35% to 65% of landfills (Donovon Rypkema, 1999; Dr. Mark Gorgolewsky, School of Architectural Science, Ryerson). The Meaford Economic Development Strategy recommends ‘greening the municipality’ (MEDS, 2010). Preservation is one strategy.
- Restoration uses fewer resources but employees more people. According to Donovan Rypkema new construction is about 50-50 labour and materials. Yet restoration and renovation can be as much as 75% labour- for every dollar spent you get twice as much local employment, and use about half the resources. (Alter, 2008. www.treehugger.com)
- Historic buildings already have public infrastructure – sewers, waterlines, sidewalks …(Rypkema, 1999)
The decision-making process for new versus restored building must include a feasibility study which identifies the cost-benefit, purpose of the building, the heritage/cultural significance and the implications of the decisions on the neighbourhood and community. (National Trust for Historic Preservation).
"Historic preservation is economic and community development"
Donovan Rypkema (1999) in a speech on Smart Growth to the Audubon Society of New York related heritage preservation to economic and community development. Meaford’s economic development strategy’s tourism pillar recommends heritage designation and a focus on culture. Heritage Tourism is popular with Canadians with 2.6 million out of 23.3 million Canadian adults being described as heritage tourist enthusiasts and in 1999, $3 billion was spent by Canadians on cultural tourism. (www.restoringheritage.com
Economic development and preservation:
- Unused heritage buildings restored generate taxes for the community.
- Historic neighbourhoods were built for mixed use. Zoning plans should encourage integration of use. Interconnectiveness emerges in historic areas.
- Encouraging investment in heritage areas revitalizes and revalues existing investment.
- Historic neighbourhood are “in” and need to be kept viable.
- Older and historical buildings often provide affordable rent to small business which helps the business be viable.
- Good urban design principles exist in older, heritage neighbourhoods.
- Historical neighbourhoods and commercial areas are built to be dense. No new land is used when restoring a heritage building.
- Heritage buildings are assets needing to be returned to productive use.
are positively affected by protecting heritage buildings. Dr. Robert Shipley at the University of Waterloo found that the sale of designated properties is as good as or better than the market trends and the value of heritage properties are often resistant to market downturns. (Shipley, 2000).
An added benefit to restoration of heritage building is leverage. In Newport Rhode Island, the preservation of some buildings attracted homeowners in the area to fix up other homes resulting in the revitalization of entire neighbourhoods. (Foley, MacLeish, Roos, 2010)
In Australia, the adaptive reuse of heritage buildings enables the past to be preserved and ensure viability for the future. "Historic buildings give us a glimpse of our past and lend character to our communities as well as serve practical purposes now." (Australian Government, Dept. of Environment and Heritage 2004)
Community is more than economics. Meaford is dedicated to wellness and wellbeing. The municipality is an active partner on the Grey Bruce Healthy Community Partnership. Preserving heritage buildings, neighbourhoods and landscapes contribute to a healthy community:
- Increase in walkability, safe pedestrian routes. Historic neighbourhoods were built/designed for pedestrians not cars.
- Historical neighbourhoods allow for housing options which creates diversity in the population living in the area.
- Heritage buildings and neighbours connect us to our past; they help to tell our story.
- Well-restored buildings give us a sense of pride in our community.
Heritage Preservation is not an option. It is required for any community to be vibrant. It is integration of the past with the future. Doris Duke, who is responsible for much of the colonial restoration in Newport expressed that heritage preservation "should improve the texture of the community – not alter it."
In Meaford we have been gifted with great heritage buildings and neighbourhoods, and it is our responsibility to ensure their survival for future generations.