What are the predictions?
As the green building movements continues to gain momentum, there is a growing perception that a “green” house is made of straw bales, powered by wind turbines, and surrounded by an endless green landscape. This kind of thinking can get us into a lot of trouble as it promotes sprawl, new construction (along with a need to build new infrastructures), and encourages building new, which uses a tremendous amount of energy and creates a whole lot of waste.
According to a 2004 report from the Brookings Institution Center on Urban and Metropolitan Policy, by 2030, about half of the buildings in which Americans live, work, and shop will have been built after the year 2000. Instead of responding to growth projections through creativity and adaptive reuse, 82 billion square feet will be created to replace existing space. The largest component of this building will be residential, with over 100 billion square feet of new residential space created by 2030.
What should we do?
Nobody is disputing that buildings will need to be replaced over time, and that new buildings are sometimes necessary. But why not respond by downsizing our lifestyles a bit? Why not focus on creating jobs that will renovate and retrofit buildings with energy efficient systems? It’s less expensive and more sustainable. Though I would also like to caution against gut rehabs, which produces exorbitant amounts of waste, and let’s be honest, often divide living space into ridiculous little hamster cage layouts to tout more bedrooms in real estate listings.
Let’s jump on the “vintage is cool” bandwagon, which is still going strong. Get young designers to stage rooms that mix old and new and get these images spread across pages in magazines that 30-somethings are reading. Let’s do a little research and find out who is buying homes now, get a demographic down, and target it. So much energy is spend defending ourselves as preservationists. It’s time to be on the offense.