Renewed Energy: Sustainable Historic Assets as Keystones in Urban Center Revitalization

45 Pages Posted: 30 Jan 2014 Last revised: 11 May 2016

See all articles by Michael N. Widener

Michael N. Widener

Bonnett, Fairbourn, Friedman & Balint; Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University

Date Written: May 6, 2015


This paper argues that historic preservation, in addition to preserving sensory memories, must balance protecting heritage assets with urban center growth objectives to enable high-quality built environments and community sustainability. Preservationists, whether private enterprises or public bodies, must adopt preservation strategies joining the past, present and future of community development. Historic assets transcending their original purposes can be adaptively reused to be both useful and sustainable. Repurposing these assets triggers increased livability in urban centers. To optimize historic assets’ sustainability, preservationists must partner with promoters in central business districts of sustainability and economic growth initiatives.

Taking into account the larger significance of community cohesion and livability for all citizens, certain constraints upon historic designation, and broadened development opportunities for sensitive and sustainable preservation projects, must be infused into the community planning apparatuses within state and local governments. Without such constraints and opportunities, more listed structures in city centers ultimately will be lost because they simply are too decrepit or cost-ineffective to rehabilitate relative to their limited heritage significance. A community’s livability is diminished when historic properties or sites are desecrated by natural causes or neglect of proper conservation techniques. These episodes create health and safety hazards for an urban center while thwarting revitalization. Such problems are most apparent in communities that are shrinking cities and are avoidable through various approaches discussed in the paper.

As the fiftieth anniversary of the National Historic Preservation Act approaches, I offer a specific agenda to integrate better historical assets’ preservation with sustaining their host planet and re-energizing neighborhood contexts. Minimizing frequency of underutilized or neglected historic assets is possible by early utility and sustainability analyses in the designation-advocacy process. Alliances of public and private bodies will promote adaptive reuse of heritage properties, in the process maximizing their contribution to sustainable and high-demand urban centers.

Keywords: historic preservation, sustainability, cultural assets, cultural property, heritage property, zoning, general plan, national register of historic places, historic designation, landmark designation, historic register, historic listing, adaptive reuse, downtown rehabilitation, downtown revitalization

Suggested Citation

Widener, Michael N., Renewed Energy: Sustainable Historic Assets as Keystones in Urban Center Revitalization (May 6, 2015). 32 Quinnipiac Law Review 723 (2015); Arizona Summit Law School Research Paper 2014-A-01. Available at SSRN: or

Michael N. Widener (Contact Author)

Bonnett, Fairbourn, Friedman & Balint ( email )

2325 East Camelback Road
Suite 300
Phoenix, AZ 85016
United States

Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University ( email )

Prescott, AZ 86301
United States

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