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Reusing Urban Spaces and Places

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By Rashiq Fataar

The #builtheritage chat, which focuses on heritage and preservation issues, is celebrating its two-year anniversary in March. The chat started with an idea, some twitter conversation and finally e-mails between the National Trust for Historic Preservation in the USA, and myself, a heritage consultant in Ontario, Canada.

The spirit of the chat has always been communication and collaboration. We’ve had several chats focused on partner’s programs, such as one with Habitat for Humanity on their rehabilitation projects. So to celebrate our second anniversary, we’re partnering with our twitter chat neighbour – #citytalk, which focuses on broad urban issues and sustainability. Since this is a special chat both because of our anniversary and our amazing partner, we’ve decided to revisit our 1st topic – adaptive reuse.

The first thing that this collaboration has taught me is that “adaptive reuse” is not a common term. I always assumed that it crossed many disciplines, but perhaps it is more heritage-focused than I realized. So instead of referring to it as “adaptive reuse” we’ll be using a more inclusive term “building reuse”. This issue of linguistics is one that the #builtheritage chat specifically focused on during a whole chat focused on language, so we’re happy to learn about how others view heritage terminology.

Many buildings, landscapes and structures in cities are built for specific purposes; schools, industrial buildings, commercial buildings, even homes. Over time they can cease to be used for that purpose. Over their life these structures may have also become valuable to the community. They could important landmarks in cities, or they are examples of great architecture, or they are of great historical importance, and many also contribute to the streetscape. As such, instead of demolishing these structures and rebuilding new once their originally use ceases, they are adapted to a new use. Schools are subdivided into condo, industrial complexes become entertainment districts with theaters, galleries and restaurants, or homes are converted to stores. Reuse of existing buildings is a primary concern to many people interested in heritage.

Our first chat on building reuse brought up some great sources of discussion. Chatters provided some innovative examples of building reuse including a cheese factory turned into a climbing gym, numerous industrial complexes turned cultural centres and churches being used for residential purposes. It was even pointed out that landscapes can be reused; citing the example of a hazelnut farm turned Public Park in Oregon.

Questions that were asked also focused on barriers to reuse and ways to over come them. Money, building codes and non-supportive local laws were cited as the main barriers. Creative ways to counter these barriers we discussed, like proving local officials tours of successful reuses and getting ahead of development by soliciting ideas for reuse from the public.

I’m hoping that this tweet chat mash up with revisit these questions to solicit idea from around the world on successful examples and creative approaches. But I’m also interested in hearing the broader perspective, how these reuses fit into the urban context, how they support other urban initiatives and how they support cities’ sustainability goals.

Join us on March 6th at 1pm EST for the chat!  Join Me (@jonaskayla), Sarah from @presnationlive from #builtheritage and @thisbigcity  and @futurecapetown for an amazing chatting experience.

Image credit: Wallyg

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