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Preservation, sustainability, and economics stand hand in hand

September 17, 2012 Leave a comment

Numerous studies and even more websites have been produced linking the economic benefits of preservation, but the connection of sustainability in this grouping should not be ignored. Historic preservation is an inherently green activity, and is slowly but surely gaining recognition in today’s sustainability-conscious world. Coherently summed up by the Illinois Historic Preservation Agency, “both preservation and green design share a concern about resource conservation and the goal of making a better future. Preservationists begin by identifying places that have enduring value and deserve to be part of the future. Green design begins as a response to the future challenges of resource depletion, population growth and climate change.” Further summed up in the article, are many of the green benefits of historic preservation, including the fact that many preservationist have knowledge of the fact that many historic buildings were constructed with features considered green today, such as the use of local materials compatible with climactic conditions and operable, well-placed windows for fresh air and daylight – some even featuring systems to collect and utilize rainwater. Not only are many historic buildings green, but their placement and the planning of historically developed areas also exhibit green qualities including compact arrangement, pedestrian friendliness and both mixed-use and mixed-income blended into one area creating an accessible and walkable community. Utilizing this existing infrastructure is not only environmentally-conscious, but is an economic win for any community

A study in West Virginia demonstrates the strong, positive economic impacts produced by historic preservation, which also result in additional positive impacts such as the revitalization of small town business centers – an undeniably green benefit. Wanting to not only test this theory, but gain from its benefits, numerous programs across the United States have been put into place such as the Green Pilot Project in West Union Iowa. The project focussed primarily on creating a green, sustainable community infrastructure – doing so in the greenest way possible: by rehabilitating the existing town center, utilizing and highlighting what they already had. Project planners realized that utilizing the existing downtown building stock would not only help to preserve cultural, architectural and historical assets, but would strengthen the smart planning and growth concepts already a part of their built environment by providing valuable retail space on the street level (keeping spending local and producing jobs) and by reclaiming the much-needed residential space already in place on many of these building’s upper levels. Some of this work was made possible by a further economic benefit provided by historic preservation: the use of historic tax credits.

U.S. compliance sector strong in 2012

September 11, 2012 Leave a comment
business chart showing success

U.S. compliance sector showing strong performance in 2012 (Photo credit: s_falkow)

The annual conference of the American Cultural Resources Association (ACRA) was held a few days ago in Seattle, Washington. ACRA is the trade association for the heritage compliance sector in the United States. While the ACRA program is filled with valuable business topics, the real benefit of attending is gained from talking with company owners and senior employees in the hallways and at the many social events. People often say things about their businesses that they probably shouldn’t and one always comes away from the meeting with a wealth of information about competitors and the compliance sector as a whole.

My back hallway sample, probably representative although not statistical, indicated that the compliance sector in the United States is strong. Most companies reported that 2012 has been a good year for business, with more than a few companies reporting that this year will be their strongest year since the recession of 2008/2009–some reporting their best year ever. Strength is primarily coming from activity in the mining, electrical transmission, alternative energy, and oil/gas client sectors. This pattern of strong performance appears to be geographically uniform, although there are some areas of the country doing better than others due to geographical factors (e.g. locations of oil fields and mineral resources). There are, however, a few gaps in the compliance sector’s overall strong business performance. A few firms reported that they are still having difficult times and have yet to really rebound from the recession four years ago. What is interesting about this is that a few of these firms are well known firms that have been market-share leaders in the past.

Is Western Australia’s heritage compliance boom suddenly over?

September 2, 2012 1 comment

To Boom or not to boom, that is the question.

Australia’s Resources and Energy Minister Martin Ferguson declared on 23 August 2012 that the country’s mining boom was over. This was one day after the world’s biggest miner BHP Billiton shelved two expansion plans – the Olypmic Dam open cut mine expansion in South Australia and the Port Hedland outer harbour expansion in Western Australia’s Pilbara region – each project valued at around $320 billion.

Archaeological salvage excavation at an iron mine site in the Pilbara (Photo: Guadalupe Cincunegui, ACHM).

These statements prompted some immediate flak from the mining and resources sector, while the Western Australian Premier Colin Barnett repeated his mantra that there never was a “boom”, it was just that his State has a healthy, expanding economy!Minister Ferguson and other senior Labor Government figures rapidly clarified his statement, saying that he was referring to the commodities boom being over, particularly with the international iron ore and coal prices dropping, while tens of billions of dollars in ongoing mining and energy development projects in Australia would continue on track.This is the point at which Australian heritage consultants could stop holding their breath and quaking every time they looked at a media financial report for more news of impending doom.

Heritage consulting in Australia is predominantly tied up with mining and energy developments and regional infrastructure development projects – which in turn are responses to growth through mining and energy developments. Minister Ferguson’s original announcement, coupled with BHP Billiton’s announcement and the resulting media blitz caused considerable angst among consulting firms still taking on new staff to push for bigger shares of mining-related heritage survey and impact-mitigation work – and for the growing numbers of local archaeology and anthropology graduates, as well as international ones on holiday-working visas, who are looking for work in the industry.

There has been some drop in available project work – cancellation of the BHP Billiton projects and some slowdowns in other companies’ projects due to credit and cost recalculations in the face of lower commodity prices. This has hit Queensland’s coal industry, though coal-seam gas projects so far seem unaffected. Overall though, everyone still seems to be maintaining their work flow on current projects. However, heritage services for development projects represent a finite block of work, and to maintain momentum, heritage consultancies need a constant flow of new projects. So while there appears to be enough work at the moment, we will still be all watching China in particular and the financial news in general, to see if the past continues to have a commercial future in Australia.

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