Building Green Bridges and Fostering Pride

BY Ari Karpel

September 03 2010 3:00 AM ET

 To the outsider, the historic building preservation movement and the green building movement would seem like natural allies. But according to Carla Bruni, proponents of green building are often inclined to use all new materials — albeit from recycled components — while historic preservation folks tend to “be snobby about green building ideas.”

“Both have valid points and both are kind of stubborn at the same time,” Bruni says. “Anytime you’re tearing a building down you’re filling up landfills and the materials you’re using to build it up again take a lot of energy.”

If anyone can bridge the gap, it’s this 33-year-old, openly gay Chicago native. Bruni’s master’s degree in historic preservation and deep passion for environmental change, plus years of community organizing around Chicago’s ubiquitous bungalow-style homes, make her uniquely qualified. “I’ve landmarked over 300 homes that are now on the national register of historic places,” she says. “It makes them eligible for tax incentives that help you do restorations on your home, and it fosters pride.”

But taxes aren’t the only incentive. “I’m not even sure how many people really use the tax incentives, but they’re so proud of [attaining landmark status] that they want to maintain their lawns more,” she says. “They kind of feel awesome about it. To me, what a great way to have environmental impact. We’ve literally saved millions of tons of debris from going into landfills.”

Not content to teach, advocate, and write grants, Bruni likes to get her hands dirty, too. She spends a lot of time traveling to New Orleans, where she volunteers cleaning up historic shotgun homes in the hurricane-ravaged city, which also happens to be where her girlfriend of seven years is attending graduate school. “I love New Orleans because it has more landmark districts than anywhere in the rest of the country.”

And then there’s the issue of her name, which Bruni shares with the beautiful and controversial singer-model-first lady of France. “It’s kind of a blessing and a curse,” she says, laughing. “It’s a little annoying, but I think people remember my name a lot more.”









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