The Toxic Greenwashing of a City

Updated: Feb 9, 2019

By Elina Kolstad - February 4, 2019 - Southside Pride -

Whether or not the number of bulldozers per capita will increase due to the Minneapolis 2040 Comprehensive Plan, it must be noted that Minneapolis is ALREADY being bulldozed. One lot at a time, one iconic restaurant at a time, sometimes a city block at a time. If we truly want to curb our carbon footprint, if we truly care about the future sustainability of our city, we must make more deliberate decisions about how easily we destroy our existing urban fabric and what requirements we put on new construction.

As Carl Elefante famously said, “The greenest building is the one already standing.” Existing buildings contribute less carbon in general than new construction for many reasons. First, historic building practices included placement of buildings, attention paid to airflow and solar gain, as well as size of structure. Second, existing buildings have embodied energy, which is the energy used to create and transport materials and then assemble them, which has already been done and won’t have to be done again. Finally, existing buildings provide a resource for carbon sequestration through the materials within the building.

Buildings that were built prior to modern HVAC systems are far more likely to be built with features such as airflow and awareness of solar gain than new construction. This attention to detail at the time of a building’s construction result in less need for heating and cooling, which lowers the operational energy use of the building.

Another aspect of historic buildings that reduces their operational carbon footprint over that of new construction is that historic buildings (especially housing units) were much smaller on average than those that are currently being built. Less interior space means less space to heat and cool, which reduces the operational carbon footprint of historic buildings once again when compared with new construction.

Another valuable characteristic of historic buildings that cannot be overlooked is “character.” If we truly want to encourage people to live in our city it needs to be a place people WANT to live. Preservation of historic buildings offers character through the individual details found in historic structures in addition to the variety these historic buildings give our streetscapes and overall built environment. This type of environment is more attractive to people than homogenous new construction. Preservation of existing structures doesn’t necessarily impede adding density to our city, which I will address in a future article.

Read the whole article here.

TAGS: #Gentrification

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