“Our heritage – should we care?” The Press Perspective Article (14th March) by Rob Hall GM Southern Regional NZHPT

Rob Hall has generoulsy provided us with the text of the Perspective Article that was published in The Press (14th March 2014).

Our heritage – should we care?

By General Manager for the NZHPT’s Southern Region, Rob Hall.

With the city still facing a long road to recovery, repairing what remains of its significant built heritage makes sense. Maintaining our cultural identity and reducing waste will benefit us all, and future generations, says Rob Hall, General Manager of the New Zealand Historic Places Trust’s Southern Region.

Prior to the earthquakes our built heritage contributed to Christchurch’s economic growth. The cityscape attracted tourists, particularly to see its notable collection of Gothic Revival style architecture, as well as its colonial buildings and streetscapes. Christchurch’s character contributed to its vibrancy and the people of Christchurch were united by a justifiable pride in their city. A community that loves the spaces around it bring financial benefits. We need to reflect on this as we rebuild the city. Quality urban spaces attract business and will help people remain connected to the city they love.

It is important that we think long term, despite the temptation of building something fast and cheap.  It is important to get the balance between “new Christchurch” and retention of the old right.  Quick returns from quick solutions can sometimes look good on paper, but that kind of urban planning and construction may come at the cost not only of beauty, but durability as well, potentially leaving a maintenance burden rather than an asset for generations that follow. Of-the-moment building designs are unlikely to be the heritage buildings of the future if they are designed in a way makes them date relatively quickly, or built cheaply so that they require replacement every 30 or 40 years.

The sustainable and economic reuse of building materials and the retention of large masonry structures represents a significant amount of embodied carbon, energy and economic value. If demolished and removed from the CBD, there is an added and ongoing financial and environmental cost to the recovery.

From an economic perspective, a 2009 study by internationally renowned, British architect Professor Robert Adam compared the energy performance of two buildings; one modelled with a typical lightweight facade made of glass, and one using a heavier masonry facade. The results showed the energy consumption of lightweight building types is consistently higher than those with good thermal mass and that internal temperature in those lightweight buildings fluctuates. Their temperatures during hotter months exceeded what people find comfortable, which then requires more energy for air-conditioning solutions.

International studies suggest that where significant heritage is retained as part of a well-designed streetscape, communities are more economically resilient.  The most cost effective programme of economic development of any kind, according to Donovan Rypkema, an expert on the economics of historic preservation, is the United States’ National Trust for Heritage Preservation Main Street programme. Focusing on heritage conservation as a cornerstone of commercial district revitalisation, around 2,000 communities nationwide have had Main Street programmes.  Since 1980, US$55 billion has been reinvested in participating communities, with over 109,000 net new businesses created that generated a net gain of over 473,000 new jobs and 236,000 building renovations.  Every dollar invested in a local Main Street programme leveraged nearly $18 of other investment.

Efforts to preserve our remaining historic buildings are yielding benefits, along with the potential economic benefits, they are a reflection that Christchurch people need some continuity with the past – our landmarks, traditions and shared cultural heritage – as we build our future. One such example is the Old Government Building (Heritage Hotel) in Cathedral square. There are many economic and environmental benefits from retaining many of our older buildings, particularly those that have a viable future, where demolition isn’t necessary.

Naturally safety must be the primary concern, but we are at a point where the remaining buildings are not considered a significant risk, or can be brought up to standard.

Our built environment tells a story of what we have achieved and contributes to a wider sense of Canterbury and New Zealand identity. It is important that our grandchildren are able to look back and know that we thought of them when choosing to preserve and strengthen our taonga.

If we presume that future generations will continue to value their links with the past, the way we do today, there is enormous value in retaining our significant heritage places.  Those that remind us of our origins, our values, commemorate our sacrifices and celebrate our achievements.  Collectively they help to define us as individuals, as communities and are the foundations of our civil society.

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