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Review: Stewardship of the Built Environment: Sustainability, Preservation, and Reuse

As the most recent offering in the Metropolitan Planning + Design series from the University of Utah and Island Press, Robert A. Young’s Stewardship of the Built Environment: Sustainability, Preservation, and Reuse provides a comprehensive and detailed review of the additional benefits to planning and redevelopment that are possible by connecting historic preservation and sustainable development practices.

In terms of planning scholarship, Young’s book is not an empirical study. The book is rather scholarship of synthesis (Boyer 1990), connecting two important fields of study and practice in current urban planning: sustainability of the built form (energy, materials, water management, etc.) and preservation and reuse of historically significant buildings. This connection is made through the concept of stewardship, which resonates in both subfields as a core principle. He defines stewardship of the built environment as a “philosophy that balances the needs of contemporary society and its impact on the built environment with their ultimate effects on the natural environment. . . . The goal of stewardship is to merge the reuse of the built environmental with environmental conservation and to take advantage of innumerable opportunities that foster a more sustainable environment” (2).

Young’s approach seeks to extend the recognition of ecological stewardship among sustainability planners to conservation of the built environment, in particular, to historic buildings and sites. His intent is to make the case that preservation and reuse of historically significant buildings and sites serves well the objectives of sustainable redevelopment of America’s neighborhoods and districts. Implicit is the notion that by working with historic preservation practitioners and advocates, planners advancing sustainability practices will enhance the overall sustainability of cities.

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