Climate Action: A Preservation Priority
Lindsey Wallace Director of Strategic Projects and Design Services National Main Street Center firstname.lastname@example.org
Jim Lindberg Senior Policy Director National Trust for Historic Preservation JLindberg@savingplaces.org
I’d love to hear a little bit from both of you about how you came to Historic Preservation. Are you from historic communities or communities that experience natural disasters?
I grew up in Dayton, Ohio, which is a historically rich city known for the Wright Brothers and many other innovation-type figures in this country, but I was just a big history nerd as a kid. As I was trying to figure out what career path I could take, I looked for something that would allow me to work in the field of history but connected to community and community support. I found historic preservation during my undergrad, and I went to grad school for preservation planning. I did not grow up in a place that is particularly hard hit with disasters, but it's certainly something that I'm very interested in. I have a strong passion for mitigating and adapting to climate change, which has become kind of central to a lot of the work I've been doing lately.
As a kid, I was always interested in architecture and cities, and how you can see different eras over time in places fascinated me. I worked in photography for a while trying to capture that on film, but ultimately, I learned about preservation as a career, and it seemed like a perfect fit for my interests. I’ve lived in Denver now for 30 years, but I grew up in Iowa City, Iowa, which has suffered from two major floods in recent years that have really transformed the community at the University of Iowa. Here in Colorado, we spend a lot of time up in Rocky Mountain National Park, and that's a place where over the years, we've seen a massive die off of pine trees as a result of pine beetles that are thriving because it doesn't get as cold in the winters as it used to. Last year, there was a massive fire that started in late October, which was so late in the season, and it devastated the park, including several historic structures that were lost. It really transformed the landscape, particularly on the west side of the divide. We’re really seeing the evidence of climate change in so many places across the country.
You recently came out with a climate change brief—what is the goal of the brief and what do you hope people come away with?
This brief on sustainability and climate action is one of four similar briefs on important issues facing the preservation movement. These others include issues like affordable housing and how to make our movement more inclusive. These are all topics that the Trust and our partners at the National Preservation Partners Network committed to work on together. Many of these are long-standing issues that a lot of organizations, particularly at the local and state levels, have been working on for many years. But they're bigger than what one organization can tackle on its own. There's a lot of interest in working together, identifying best practices, sharing resources and examples of how we can ensure that preservation continues to be an increasingly relevant force to address some of the bigger challenges that we're facing as a society, whether we're talking about climate change, affordability, or equity and racial justice.
The paper is aimed at our partners at the local and state levels around the country who are on the ground doing this work, and advocates, preservation firms, and consulting firms who are very much engaged in communities and confronting these challenges. The beauty of these briefs is that they were put together by a lot of smart people who are working in local and state organizations, who are consultants or National Trust advisors. We got a lot of good ideas and perspectives from people working around the country who could both bring their knowledge and understanding of the different kinds of audiences.
Our partners’ input was also critical in sort of getting an understanding of what big roadblocks and miscommunications they've experienced on the ground. It was helpful having people who’ve worked in different regional locations, and across rural and urban spaces. We also wanted to reach folks in local state and federal government. Staff at the State Historic Preservation Offices across the country are charged with interpreting the Secretary of Interior standards; they're charged with big decisions that affect a lot of different kinds of projects. Their understanding of climate change and resilience, mitigation, and adaptation is critical. We do a lot of outreach in the non-profit and private sectors, but that public sector piece really is critical.
In your experience, do more local actors today have the bandwidth to start tackling climate change, or is there a willingness to evolve their work towards that direction?
That's a great question—some can tackle this more readily than others. Sometimes that has to do with their urgency, whether climate change is right in front of them and is something they just can't avoid confronting. But for a lot of organizations, climate change can be an overwhelming issue. It's hard to know how we can make a difference. One of our goals with this brief was to identify some of the ways that Historic Preservation really can make a difference and to show that we do have a role in helping to mitigate the impacts of climate change by reducing carbon emissions. We certainly have a role in helping communities adapt and prepare for the impacts that are coming and that some communities are already experiencing. To do that, we tried to identify ways communities can get started and ways we can support that work, namely through putting together case studies or policy examples, learning from what people are doing around the country, and making sure that we're sharing those ideas and experiences.
So many of the most innovative and impactful approaches are starting locally, out of necessity. There's federal and national leadership in a lot of these projects, but the local stories, the sort of folks who are dealing with the most critical impacts on the ground and reacting in time, are the examples that are going to add up in a lot of ways and create the most impact.
Did you discuss the impacts of COVID-19 as a non-climate disaster in the report?
We didn't. But it is interesting how COVID-19 changed so many things in our society. A lot of people are seeing how quickly our world can change because of that, which reminds us that we need to be ready for change of all kinds. And climate is certainly going to be a huge factor. COVID-19 has us thinking about ways that we can make our homes and our communities more resilient to those kinds of changes and those kinds of impacts we should probably expect.
At Main Street America, we have a program in partnership with the National Park Service on disaster recovery and resilience. We were able to add pandemics to our “list of natural disasters,” and it's interesting, because as we continue to deal with impacts of climate change, pandemics will likely be something we may see more of. When we think about disaster recovery and resilience, this type of natural disaster is going to be more common. To Jim's point, one of the silver linings dealing with COVID-19 is that kind of resilience, adaptation, and thinking a little bit differently for how to prepare for a disaster.
What best strategies do you recommend for state and local officials for engaging with community members about climate change and resiliency?
I'm coming from the perspective of an organization that works with local leaders, both in cities and with preservation organizations. It’s always best to be proactive from that angle and start conversations with city officials as soon as possible. Sometimes not everybody gets to the table, so we encourage community-led conversations in order to facilitate more equitable solutions.
It's important for city officials and local leaders to make sure that people from all different backgrounds and sectors are at the table. We want to make sure leaders go down many different avenues to make those inclusive conversations happen.
Communicating that climate is going to affect everyone, that no one's going to be immune from the impacts, so we need to work together. And that preparation is going to be less expensive in the long run than constant recovery if we're not well prepared. We advise investing in the kinds of changes that are going to be needed sooner rather than later, which is going to save money in the long run. We try to help people think about the changes that may affect their lives, specifically their homes and families, and we make sure that we're talking about practical steps and solutions that people can take so that they can feel part of the solutions themselves.
How does community involvement show up in this report?
At our PastForward conference last year, we did a survey of folks who participated in the conference’s town hall on climate change, and prior to that we partnered on a national survey with a consulting firm out of California to learn more about what the field of preservation needs when it comes to dealing with climate change. One of the themes that emerged from all of that was how to communicate about the climate change effectively and how to reach people with clear messages about what they can do as preservationists and as community members.
I'm on the board of the National Preservation Partners Network. I would say one of the main goals of our work is to engage more folks from around the country in the development of our next projects. In effort to expand our partnerships to make things more equitable and our resources more accessible, we really encourage folks to get involved as much as they want to. It is crucial that we have more voices elevated as a part of this work, so we're excited to have the issue we've released, and it's the start of an ongoing, necessary process.
We hope that the brief conveys not only a sense of urgency, but also a sense that there are ways that we can all act now, whether that's to mitigate or adapt to climate change. We hope this is information that will help people feel like they can be part of solutions, and we look forward to providing more resources to support that work. It’s important to remember that nobody has all the answers, and we're all going to have to be creative. Preservation, advocates, organizations, and consulting firms all have a role in working with communities to develop creative, inclusive, and equitable solutions, because there's just no question that these impacts from climate are disproportionately affecting many communities that don't have resources. We want to make sure that the solutions really benefit those communities.
Don’t forget to register!
PastForward, National Preservation Trust Conference – November 2nd-5th, 2021
Issue Brief: Sustainability and Climate Action