The following commentary was sent to The Eye by Jennifer Saines. The Eye welcomes commentary from any position.
So-called green building practices are not always “sustainable”; they certainly are not when compared with the adaptive reuse of existing buildings. Erasing one building to erect another isn’t necessarily a step forward in the energy-saving game. Economist Donavan Rypkema illustrates this idea by explaining that the energy it took to make an existing building is energy being thrown away when it is demolished:
Embodied energy is defined as the total expenditure of energy involved in the creation of the building and its constituent materials. When we throw away an historic building, we are simultaneously throwing away the embodied energy incorporated into that building. So we start with the energy embodied in the building then add the energy expended tearing it down and hauling it to the landfill. What have we wasted? Over 56,000 gallons of gasoline.
Most of the “green building” movement focuses on the annual energy use of a building. But the energy embodied in the construction of a building is 15 to 30 times the annual energy use. A recent study in Great Britain indicated that it takes from 35 to 50 years for an energy efficient new home to recover the carbon expended in constructing the house.
Razing historic buildings results in a triple hit on scarce resources.... You’re a fool or a fraud if you claim to be an environmentally conscious builder and yet are throwing away historic buildings, and their components.
Centerplan’s “green” mission to manufacture solar panels is undercut by their real world practices. The Middletown Press building, for instance, was razed to build a drive-thru Rite Aid, and their present proposal calls for the demolition of three historic houses in Washington Street’s National Historic district.
You may remember we lost the Shiloh Baptist Church at the intersection of East Main and Saybrook Road in 2009. A developer and the church congregation agreed to replace the church with a drive-thru chain pharmacy in exchange for a newly built church. Before the old structure was demolished I heard that lots of folks went and reclaimed some of the great interior work. So at least some of that “embodied” energy was salvaged, but it’s small consolation every time I pass by the soul-less Walgreen/CVS corner that had been so beautifully anchored with not only beauty but also, as Rypkema says, “ the meaning and memory of our town built up over generations”.
Commercial development of the kind proposed by the proposed zoning amendment will not increase Middletown’s tax revenues. Demolition of the existing historic buildings will actually decrease the city’s tax revenue on the one site studied.
Read more: Donovan D. Rypkema.