Press Release | Tucson, Arizona | December 5, 2016

Older, Smaller Buildings Benefit Tucson’s Livability and Economic Vitality

New Research Shows How Diverse Blocks Offer Opportunities and Assets Not Found in Newer Neighborhoods

The National Trust for Historic Preservation released a new research report today, Older, Smaller, Better in Tucson: Measuring How the Character of Buildings and Blocks Influences Urban Vitality in a Southwestern City, that illuminates the impact of Tucson’s built environment. The study demonstrates how neighborhoods with older, smaller buildings are more economically strong and culturally dynamic than those neighborhoods with only larger, newer buildings.

“The National Trust’s research of Tucson’s neighborhoods reveals a connection between historic buildings and prosperity that exists in cities across the country,” said Stephanie K. Meeks, president of the National Trust for Historic Preservation. “These areas offer cultural and economic benefits that simply do not exist in neighborhoods with newer, homogeneous buildings. By preserving historic buildings, we generate new opportunities for growth and innovation.”

The report was commissioned by the City of Tucson and produced by the Preservation Green Lab, a department of the National Trust that works closely with local, state, and national partners to produce research that demonstrates the value of older buildings, and develop innovative policies to make building reuse more likely. Building upon the Preservation Green Lab’s research in Seattle, San Francisco, and Washington, D.C., this report focuses on Tucson’s very different history and development patterns. The report builds on the National Trust’s new ReUrbanism initiative that promotes the reuse of older and historic buildings as the default option in American cities.

“The heartbeat of Tucson includes many of the oldest areas of the city,” said Michael Powe, Ph.D., director of research for Preservation Green Lab. “From Territorial-period adobe row houses to mid-century modern subdivisions, the city’s rich history is reflected in its built environment. Now we know just how these diverse blocks contribute to the city’s vitality.”

Older, Smaller, Better in Tucson key findings include:

  • Neighborhoods with older, smaller buildings are resilient job generators and support jobs in small businesses, creative companies and startups.
  • Areas with structures of mixed age and size also have more women and minority-owned local businesses; more distinctive, non-chain restaurants and retailers; and more of Tucson’s most beloved, “top-rated” businesses.
  • Older, smaller buildings have denser, younger and more age-diverse populations.
  • Adapting existing buildings to new uses is cheaper than new construction, and is a more stable construction activity during economic downturns.
  • Older and historic areas of the city attract more investment in construction and rehabilitation activity.
  • Areas with older, smaller buildings are more walkableand more streetcar accessible.
  • Areas with older, smaller, mixed-age buildings have greater tree canopy and cooler surface temperatures.

Older, Smaller, Better Research Methodology:

Using local and national data sources, the National Trust’s Preservation Green Lab conducted an analysis of Tucson’s buildings and blocks to assess the connections between the character of the city’s building stock and more than 80 measures of economic, social, and environmental sustainability. The Preservation Green Lab relied on geographic information systems mapping and spatial statistics to test the hypothesis that older building age, greater diversity of building age, and smaller-sized buildings are associated with greater livability, economic vitality, and residential density and diversity.

Suggested Tweet: New @PresGreenLab study reveals value in Tucson’solder, diverse blocks not found in newer neighborhoods #oldersmallerbetter


The National Trust for Historic Preservation, a privately funded nonprofit organization, works to save America’s historic places. | @savingplaces

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