Adaptive Reuse: Explaining Collaborations within a Complex Process
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Every building, if allowed the chance, will one day become old. Some will individually be deemed “historic” for special cultural, historical, or aesthetic qualities. Others may simply add to the general historic backdrop of a neighborhood as a “contributing resource” to a historic district, but are not necessarily of exceptional value on their own. Some buildings are lovingly maintained throughout the course of time, only incurring minor changes here and there to bring the building up to modern standards and tastes, while others are left to slowly fade away and deteriorate after (often) withstanding alterations inside and out for modernization. Whether lovingly maintained or deteriorated, withstanding minor to substantial alterations, many of our old buildings are worthy of some level of preservation. Aside from the rare exceptions which are worthy of a very high level of “preservation” in the strict sense of the word—usually pristine examples of a particular time period or style— most old buildings will require some amount of adaptation and creativity to allow for a return to functional viability while stimulating a new resonance for history and the built environment with the public. I became particularly fascinated with the adaptive reuse development process when working as an intern at a private historic tax credit consulting firm during the summer of 2010. There I learned firsthand how complicated and complex the real estate development process can be not only in general, but particularly for historic buildings that are subject to special rules and regulations. This is especially an issue when tax credits and other forms of financial incentives are used for a project, adding extra layers of review and regulation. I witnessed, at times, high levels of frustration between various participants in the development process and at various stages, whether trying to find the right balance between adaptation and preservation, adhering to certain historic design standards, maintaining the timing and pace needs for a project to remain financially viable, or arguing over whether or not a project should be awarded the tax credits that its completion was hinged on. Of course I always formed my own opinions on each issue and project that I came aware of, but my eyes were quickly opened to other perspectives—other needs, desires, and motivations, and those unique points of view of the wide variety of people who are typically involved in the development process for an adaptive reuse project. My educational background includes a focus in both historic preservation and planning, and the dualnature of my studies has allowed me to approach historic preservation issues with a broader perspective. This, along with my internship experiences, has prompted me to seek a more complete understanding of how people view historic preservation—in particular, the adaptive reuse of commercial buildings and others used for income-producing purposes, and the development process for such activities. In my opinion, due to the frustration and conflict that I became aware of, there clearly seemed to be a problem with the way that the adaptive reuse development process typically occurs. The more I considered this “problem”, the more I saw it as an inherently complex, collaborative problem that might benefit from an analysis as such, including delving into the underlying motives, desires, and ideals of the key stakeholders, deconstructing the problem through the lens of collaborative planning, and suggesting solutions for how the process might be improved for everyone involved. On a personal level, I am strongly in favor of preserving, rehabilitating, and adaptively reusing as many of our existing old and historic buildings as possible for a multitude of reasons; but now, I realize just how important it is that every stakeholder and participant in the development process be able to work together, communicate effectively and constructively, and be willing to make compromises while considering what is best not only for the building in question, but for its community at large. Historic preservation is not an isolated activity, and as such should be understood for its meanings and effects to others outside of the “preservationist world” in order to gain a broader and deeper support base with the hope of strengthening “preservation” as a true value of the American core. It does not matter if historic preservation has different meanings and values attached to it for different people—historical and cultural value, aesthetic value, economic development value, revitalization and sustainability value, and even the opportunity to profit—but what does matter is that each of these values is fulfilled for each participant in the adaptive reuse process so that adaptive reuse may thrive as a strategy to improve our communities and leave thoughtful, lasting legacies of our past. It is with this impetus that I embarked on my research, with the ultimate goal that I might be able to positively influence the adaptive reuse development process by providing a broader understanding of the approaches of its key stakeholders and participants. My wish is to see historic preservation as a value, a practice, and a goal flourish and thrive into the 21st century—but in order for that to happen, the complexities and conflicts in approach to the adaptive reuse of our old and historic buildings must be more completely understood and constructively assessed so that the development process might be improved for all.