historic preservation saves communities' souls, argues tedxcle speaker

Rhonda Sincavage has vivid memories of the day that a dilapidated shoe factory in her hometown was torn down. The incident sparked her lifelong passion for historic preservation.

"My grandfather worked there, along with many people that lived in our town," said Sincavage, Program Associate for State and Local Policy at the National Trust for Historic Preservation, at last week's sold out TEDxCLE event. "It was our town's namesake and a symbol of our community."

During her presentation, Sincavage challenged stereotypes that she encounters during her career. Preserving buildings and neighborhoods is not simply a luxury, she argued, but an economic necessity that creates jobs, boosts the local economy and creates a more sustainable future. 

"When I tell people what I do, some ask if I wear period dress or if I've saved any buildings lately," she said. "Yet our generation's version of historic preservation has nothing to do with our grandmother's version. This isn't about little old ladies saving buildings; this is about learning from the past to preserve the future."

She also stated that preserved neighborhoods tend to be more diverse than others, and that preserved buildings leverage additional investment, citing Cleveland's Warehouse District as one example. 

Sincavage challenged the stereotype that older buildings are expensive and inefficient. "There's no reason why historic buildings can't be as efficient as new buildings," she said. "Historic buildings are the original green -- they have windows that let in natural light and overhangs that provide for shade." Preserving older buildings also reuses existing resources rather than throwing them away.

Finally, Sincavage said that preserving neighborhoods is not only a way to spur redevelopment, it also attracts residents. The "Soul of the Community" project, an effort launched by Gallup and the James L. Knight Foundation, showed that aesthetics, openness and social offerings are the most important factors for people when choosing a place to live.

"There's really a strong correlation between someone's emotional attachment of a place and their likelihood to stay," said Sincavage.

Source: Rhonda Sincavage
Writer: Lee Chilcote
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