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Last week I found myself sitting in the Grand Ballroom of the Hyatt Regency San Francisco listening to a Gen-X Ph.D. candidate and Fulbright Scholar lecture a full room of individuals spanning the spectrum, from millennial to card-carrying AARP’ers, on the dire outlook for our globe in the face of climate change.

Victoria Herrman had spent years traveling the world from the Arctic to the Outback observing and documenting our environmental crisis as President and Managing Director of the Arctic Institute. The UN has issued its declaration: we have 12 years to reverse direction or suffer cataclysmic global disaster. Slide after slide depicting global weather phenomenon, statistics and ravaged landscapes left in the wake of hurricanes, floods, and fires appeared on the massive ballroom screens, dwarfing the speaker while amplifying her message: we must act, and we must act NOW.

The following day, in the same Grand Ballroom, I listened raptly as one of my literary idols did a reading of a piece never before shared in public. Terry Tempest Williams held her voice just above a whisper, commanding we listen with intent. She spoke of the struggle in her home state of Utah in the face of policy changes impacting previously protected cultural and natural assets, national treasures clinging to the safety of the public domain, being put up for pillage at the hands of the highest bidder. She spoke of Bears Ears and what is at risk of loss. She spoke of remembrances and ties to the indigenous knowledge held only by the tribes, now threatened by policy changes.

Meanwhile, as we nibbled on pastries and sipped fresh coffee in between these educational sessions, two hours away scores of living searched the scorched earth of Paradise for the dead. Farther south, in Malibu, a dear friend continued to rescue and relocate horses left by frenzied owners fleeing the flames of the Woolsey fires, having released her two eldest horses to make room in her trailer for those younger, more competitive and owned by others. One of the countless acts of selfless heroics.

Walking out into the streets of San Francisco, we wrapped our mouths with scarves as the protective masks had long sold out. Our eyes stung from the smoke as the wind had shifted mid-day, coming now from the northeast, bringing the notes of warning from the Camp fire up in Butte County. The sting in my chest reaffirmed the day’s lectures: climate change is passed the threshold, it is here, and must not be ignored.

The afternoon found us in yet another hotel meeting room listening to African American graduate research fellows report on the status of their research in major urban centers across the country. They were focusing on the phenomena of gentrification, displacement and social impacts in minority neighborhoods- historic neighborhoods, home to those marginalized, forgotten and locked out of the world being created just beyond the boundaries of San Francisco, in a place known as Silicon Valley. They shared the results of oral interviews with residents experiencing the loss of identity that comes with economically forced relocation. New York, St. Louis, Compton, Atlanta, all being given a voice and being heard for the first time by many in the audience.

A quick break and into another session. This time, we found ourselves being led through the process of taking a non-descript, circa 1974 commercial building in Sacramento completely off the grid and to a point of net-zero energy consumption, all the while providing leading-edge office space to an active architectural firm. We learned of the process of creating an enclosed water and sanitary system, supported by cisterns and composting toilets. There was a time when cisterns, alone, provided water for German Village; When the toilets were composting outhouses. There is environmental wisdom to be found in the past, right under our noses.

We learned how the building reduced its carbon footprint by generating its own energy, sourced on-site with photovoltaic cells. Today, appropriate to German Village, we have slate-like solar shingles soon to be available to us, thanks to Elon Musk.

We learned how the composting toilet worked, how the living wall cleaned the office air; we learned how they used passive natural light and warning systems to curb vampire electrical leaks, unnecessary energy use. We learned that it is possible to convert a historic structure into a net-zero energy consumption structure. The oldest building is the greenest building. Look around you.

We learned how the city of Sacramento finally relinquished after over a year of trying to determine just how crazy this applicant was and granted the necessary permits to a fully functioning commercial building that would not be tied to the municipal water system, nor to the municipal sewer system, nor to the electric grid- a structure that met the Living Building Challenge.  How will the city of Columbus embrace such efforts?

Why was I in San Francisco last week? Was I at a summit on climate change? No. Was I at a gathering of urban activists, revolutionaries seeking social justice? Nope. Or, perhaps I was meeting with leading-edge architects and planners striving to push the edges of design and energy efficiency. Not really. However, I was present at a version of each of these, and more.

I was in San Francisco to attend the National Trust for Historic Preservation’s annual conference known as Past/Forward 2018.

And you thought preservation was just about bricks and getting past the Historic District Commission.

Welcome to the leading edge of the Preservation movement. To be continued.

Want to learn more?

Call or email me anytime:

Nancy Kotting, M.S. Preservation Planning

I would like to thank each and every individual who supports the German Village Society, who participates in the preservation of German Village as a Caretaker of a Legacy™. Your support, the leadership provided by our Executive Director Delilah Lopez, the contributions of my fellow staff members Chelsey Craig and Jena Wilson, and our dedicated Board of Trustees, allowed me to attend this conference, to share my knowledge and experiences with others in my field, and to learn from one another. In turn, I bring this knowledge home and apply it to our activities here in German Village, Columbus, and beyond. My gratitude to you all.