8 Great Reasons to Preserve Built Heritage in Calgary
- Historic buildings are good for local economies, contributing to a sustainable tax base. They support entrepreneurship, innovation and experimentation over generic chain store and high-rise development. Patrons love to frequent character buildings! Many of Calgary’s top restaurants are located in historic buildings. Historic districts attract tourists, offer ready-made sets for the film industry, and function as outdoor arts and festival sites. Preservation avoids demolition and the associated high cost to the City of building material waste that goes into the landfill. Existing neighbourhoods and infrastructure are enhanced, preventing urban decay that leads to crime, sprawl and related infrastructure costs.
- Heritage designations boost property values. Contrary to the conventional wisdom that designation hampers redevelopment, a historical designation sets properties and even whole districts apart. Designation protects the critical character elements of a building, while allowing for adaptive redesign to suit modern living and incorporation of energy-saving technologies.
- Heritage preservation supports the education, development and retention of skilled craftsmen, trades, and businesses providing locally sourced and refurbished building materials. Local jobs are created, unlike new construction which often relies on pre-fab, mass-produced imports. Remediation processes and technologies (e.g. in mould and asbestos removal) are advanced. Additional jobs are created in heritage research and planning. Theses skills and resources are transferable between private residences and important private and public buildings.
- Heritage preservation is better for the environment. It’s the ultimate in recycling, reduces demolition and construction waste, and saves energy spent on manufacturing and transporting new building materials and tools. Historic buildings used natural materials such as wood, stone and brick that were meant to last. Many of Calgary’s pre-WW1 buildings survived the 2013 flood better than newer construction. New construction uses more synthetic materials such as vinyl and plastic, long-term exposure to which may be harmful to human health. Wood decomposes safely and rapidly and is non-polluting at the end of its useful life.
- Demolition of previously renovated buildings can inadvertently destroy hidden architectural features. Losses may include stone and metal work, rare materials made from old growth hardwoods, or hand-made ceramics and the like that can never be duplicated.
- Heritage homes provide hidden and affordable density. Many of Calgary’s original grand homes have been divided into affordable suites for students and singles. Renovated older homes may incorporate secondary suites in basements, attics and newly constructed laneway housing, or provide extra bedrooms for extended family members and care givers. They add diversity to Calgary’s housing stock. Tools like “density bonusing” allow for larger buildings to be constructed in areas suitable for redevelopment, while maintaining a more human scale on existing, lower density character streets. City, developer, and community interests are balanced, paving the way for vibrant and respectful inner-city renewal.
- Heritage buildings offer a sense of place, an identity, and it’s a source of pride to be part of a “character” community. Personal connections to neighbours, local businesses, community services, and open spaces are fostered by knowing and relating to the struggles, joys and stories of the people that occupied these places in past. Built heritage provides a sense of permanency and engages citizens in contributing to a better city that they care about. Residents are grounded socially, spiritually and culturally. They feel comfortable and safe walking around familiar environments.
- Exposure to architectural beauty and the associated retention of mature trees on historic streets are scientifically proven to be good for your mental and physical health. Volunteer activities like walking tours and community events are often associated with maintaining and promoting heritage buildings. This is a valuable way to keep people, especially seniors, active and involved in their community.
To sum up, according to the National Standards & Guidelines for the Conservation of Historic Places in Canada, “heritage value is the aesthetic, historic, scientific, social or spiritual importance or significance for past, present, or future generations”. The benefits of preserving in-situ built heritage cannot be fully realized in museum or theme park settings, nor in virtual formats.
Every place counts! Protecting one building can set the tone for preserving a heritage street or whole district. Allowing even a few buildings to be demolished without a plan to preserve the important historical elements that define a community’s character can start the gradual “creep” of redevelopment until “you don’t know what you’ve lost ‘til its gone”.