Goal 5: Climate Resilience

Conserve, reuse, and retrofit older buildings to reduce carbon emissions, while at the same time adapting historic places to withstand current and future climate impacts.

Preservationists are accustomed to acting in a crisis, and climate change is the biggest crisis we will ever face. When climate disasters strike, preservationists are often on the front lines as communities react and recover.

Community resilience strategies are needed not only to protect historic buildings and neighborhoods, but more importantly, to support the people who live and work in them. Preservationists can also play a leadership role in helping to mitigate the impacts of climate change. Buildings are responsible for approximately 40 percent of carbon emissions and more than a third of existing buildings in U.S. are over 50 years old. As stewards and experts on older buildings, we are well positioned to lead efforts to reduce carbon emissions and mitigate climate change through building conservation, reuse, and retrofitting.

City Dock Flood, Annapolis, Maryland

photo by: City of Annapolis

Flooded City Dock in Annapolis, Maryland.

Crowdsourced Actions

A few highlights of the suggested crowdsourced actions generated during focus groups are paraphrased below to stimulate conversation and further brainstorming. The source of each idea is indicated in parentheses at the end of each suggested action. If you would like to add a suggested action to this list, please email us at nationalimpactagenda@savingplaces.org.

  • Provide clear guidelines about sustainable materials for rehabilitation and restoration. (Source: Main Street network focus group)
  • Put equity at the forefront of climate change and ensure that preservation is reflected in Biden Administration’s plans and seen as a priority in planning processes. (Source: NTHP Advisors focus group)
  • Help our nation understand the benefits of preserving and recycling entire structures. Focus on conservation of resources as a strategy to address climate change. (Source: Saving Places survey)
  • Align preservation with environmental justice issues. (Source: Diversity Scholars/Emerging Professionals focus groups)
  • Change the ways historic structures are evaluated to go beyond historical and architectural significance and include the “recycling” value of retaining an existing building, which would help reduce the number of building demolition approvals. (Source: Preservation commissions focus group).
  • Join the Climate Heritage Network and build awareness of other groups like FEMA Heritage Emergency National Taskforce. (Source: PastForward listening sessions)
  • Align preservation with environmental justice issues.” (Source: Diversity Scholars/Emerging professionals focus groups)
  • Seek out tools and resources that already exist and share. Create a website that gathers resources related to climate change together in one place. (Source: Architects focus group)
  • Update cultural resource surveys to help assess climate risk and improve climate resilience.” (PastForward steering committee focus group)
  • Engage and share information with tribal communities and tribal nations to understand indigenous priorities in terms of climate resilience.” (Source: PastForward steering committee focus group)

Case Studies

We hope the case studies below will inspire and inform your work in preservation. To reflect a fuller spectrum of the preservation movement as it continues to grow, we will continue to crowdsource and add additional examples over time. Please send additional case study ideas to nationalimpactagenda@savingplaces.org.

  • Preservation organizations with a shared interest in the impact of climate change and sea level rise are finding ways to share information and collaborate, including the annual Keeping History Above Water conferences and the international advocacy of the Climate Heritage Network.
  • Boston’s Stone Living Lab is a partnership effort between a number of organizations who are working on “innovative, nature-based approaches to climate adaptations, coastal resilience, and ecological restoration in and around Boston Harbor.”
  • The Georgia Trust Green program is helping historic homeowners achieve environmental sustainability with their historic homes in Georgia through education, a checklist for assessments and certification as a GREEN property. To make the program as accessible as possible, many of the suggested improvements to achieve certification can be done by the homeowners.
  • Historic Charleston Foundation in South Carolina is part of climate change efforts, such as the Army Corps’ 3x3 study to adapt to climate change. Charleston is discussing building a seawall as part of a strategy to protect historic resources and reduce risk posed by increased storm frequency and intensity, compounded by sea level rise.
  • The City of Portland, Oregon, has pioneered a deconstruction and salvage ordinance to ensure that building materials are salvaged for reuse, rather than disposal.  Other cities like San Antonio, Texas and Boulder, Colorado have similar deconstruction initiatives.  San Antonio’s the first program initiated by a preservation office.
  • Los Angeles’s Adaptive Reuse Ordinance has incentivized the creation of over 12,000 new housing units in converted older/historic buildings.
  • Historic Boston, Inc. (HBI) purchased the endangered 18th century Fowler Clark Epstein Farm in Mattapan, a predominantly African American and immigrant Boston neighborhood suffering from disinvestment.  Together with the Urban Farming Institute of Boston, the Trust for Public Land and the North Bennet Street School, this historic farm has been transformed into the new headquarters of the Urban Farming Institute of Boston offering healthy produce, farmer training and more to enhance the lives of local residents.
  • Sea level rise and more frequent storms and flooding are threatening historic properties in St. Augustine, Florida, which was founded in 1565. Over three-quarters of the parcels in the city’s historic districts are located within a floodplain. In response, a team of consultants worked with the city to develop a comprehensive set of resilience strategies that integrate heritage preservation across a range of city policies, from zoning and capital improvements to design review and incentives. The award-winning project, Resilient Heritage in America’s Oldest City, offers a model for other communities seeking to integrate historic preservation into their climate adaptation plans.
  • Weather it Together, Annapolis is a model Cultural Resource Hazard Mitigation Plan developed by the City of Annapolis in collaboration with FEMA, consultants, and community members. It highlights the city’s efforts to address the local impacts of climate change on cultural resources through proactive hazard mitigation planning. Interactive maps, participatory GIS, surveys, photo crowdsourcing, and other elements were incorporated to encourage resident and stakeholder involvement.
  • Published by the National Park Service in 2021, Guidelines on Flood Adaptation for Rehabilitating Historic Buildings provides direction and examples for historic property managers and design professionals. The publication outlines a flood risk evaluation process and details a range of potential flood response measures, from wet and dry floodproofing to building elevation. The conclusion highlights four case studies.
  • Nantucket island, located off the coast of Massachusetts, includes a National Historic Landmark district containing more than 800 pre-Civil War era structures. The Town of Nantucket partnered with consultants and preservation organizations to develop the Nantucket Resilience Toolkit, which includes a comprehensive list of resources for owners of historic properties. Detailed visualizations help property owners see how rising waters will impact the historic district. New Flooding Adaptation and Building Elevation Design Guidelines, modeled after flood adaptation guidelines recently published by the National Park Service, provide strategies for adapting historic properties to better withstand the impacts or rising sea levels and more frequent storms and flooding.
  • A nontraditional design competition organized by the National Trust for Historic Preservation and Trust for the National Mall, the Tidal Basin Ideas Lab generated five creative approaches to flood adaptation, including nature-based solutions, that may be relevant to other parks and public monuments threatened by sea-level rise.
  • Confronted with the twin threats of recurrent storm surge and spiking flood insurance rates, Mandeville, Louisiana, became one of the first communities in the nation to develop guidelines and an approval process for building elevations in its local historic district. This article examines the response and lessons learned.

Next Steps: Commitments to Action

We are focused on developing an assessment tool and resources for the National Trust and other preservation agencies, organizations, firms, and leaders around the country to evaluate their existing and future initiatives and shed light on how these goals can further align with the priorities identified in the crowdsourced Leading the Change Together. We aim to share more in the coming months and to provide opportunities for preservationists to showcase their initiatives and leadership in redefining the U.S. preservation movement today. Please check back for updates.

Each year, America’s 11 Most Endangered Historic Places sheds light on important examples of our nation’s heritage that are at risk of destruction or irreparable damage.

See the List