Sunday, April 13, 2008

More on Richard Moe and Historic Preservation

A variety of class speakers have introduced the issue of historical preservation in the discussion of downtown development. This article titled “Sustainable Stewardship: Berkeley California” is actually the text of a speech given by Richard Moe, the seventh and current president of the National Trust for Historic Preservation non-profit organization. The speech highlights some main arguments, as well as emerging arguments, from the historic preservation constituency.

Moe states that historic preservation is “simply having the good sense to hold on to things that are well designed, that link us without past in a meaningful way, and that have plenty of good use left in them.” Although this is the core philosophy of historic preservation, Moe notes that the movement has evolved over the course of the last 150 years. Initially, the movement stressed paving and restricting iconic buildings to serve as the country’s patriotic shrines. Around the mid-twentieth century, the movement stressed economic benefit and adaptive reuse. Afterwards, the movement ties together the role of preservation in supporting societal values. Today, Moe argues that historic preservation not only continues to sustain societal values, but also addresses the climate change crisis.

“The challenge is to help people understand that preservation, but its very nature, is sustainability.” The current climate change crisis is characterized by the degradation of the environment and the consumption of energy and natural resources. Moe argues that because the remedy to the climate change crises will necessarily involve the conservation of energy and natural resources, “historic preservation has always been the greenest of the building arts.” Buildings are vast repositories of “embodied energy”, having taken up energy to extract, transport, and assemble building materials. The demotion of such building, as well as any construction thereafter, uses up more energy. Addressing the counter argument that historic buildings are energy hogs, Moe points out that in fact, some older buildings are as energy efficient as new ones. Moreover, since any new building represents an impact to the environment, “the greenest building is one that already exists.”

Moe advocates for a federal policy that will direct growth in existing communities. While land-use planning has traditionally been a matter of state and local government, Moe believes that where the federal government has a huge impact on local development by selecting carefully how to allocate its federal budget. Such federal policy should “stop rewarding unsustainable development,” “enhance the violability and livability of the [existing] communities.” And “encourage reuse and energy upgrades in older buildings.”

Richard Moe, Sustainable Stewardship: Berkeley, California. March 29, 2008, available at:

J. Cheung

No comments: