Letter to the Editor: Saving Harley Clarke is a win for the environment

The greenest building is the one that is already standing. Existing buildings represent embodied energy, and that energy is forever lost once a building is demolished. The materials used to build historic buildings like the Harley Clarke Mansion — such as old-growth wood, historic glass and copper — are rare and valuable and, in many cases, can no longer be acquired. From an environmental perspective, existing buildings should be reused, repurposed and retrofitted to preserve their embodied energy and reduce waste.

Demolition of buildings, on the other hand, requires a lot of energy and produces a lot of waste. It creates noise and air pollution from fossil-fuel-burning demolition equipment, creates tons of debris and dust that inevitably contaminates surrounding areas and results in tons of valuable materials being sent to landfills. Existing buildings and their architectural elements are assets and should be treated as such. A proper retrofit of Harley Clarke would result in a more sustainable and energy-efficient building and represent a significant amount of energy saved and tons of materials kept out of landfills.

The Harley Clarke grounds are historical and architectural treasures, made even more valuable by the fact that they are public property and in such a beautiful location close to the lake. With lush native trees and welcoming gardens, it is a unique public asset that should be protected and cherished. Thoughtfully and sustainably preserving this space is the best way to guarantee that it remains public and for use by the community. It is also the most environmentally friendly decision.

Moving forward with demolishing Harley Clarke would require not only razing the structure to the ground but also destroying several old-growth trees and decades-old flora, including original plantings by noted landscape architect Jens Jensen. With the loss of such large trees comes the loss of their ability to sequester carbon and purify our air — while a negligible difference in the context of climate change, the loss of any old-growth tree is difficult to recover from. Additionally, without those trees the ability for the land to retain and filter stormwater would be diminished. Losing these trees and other flora would reduce this area’s resilience in the face of a changing climate. The landscaping on and surrounding the property is also an important habitat for a variety of flora and fauna, including several species threatened by climate change and habitat loss such as migrating birds, native bees and butterflies. Disturbing this sensitive habitat through the demolition of Harley Clarke would be environmentally irresponsible.

As a citizen of this city, a fan of historically significant structures and an environmentalist, I am absolutely in favor of preserving Harley Clarke for generations to come.

Lauren Marquez-Viso
Vice President of Citizens’ Greener Evanston
Co-Chair of the Mayor’s Working Group for the Climate Action and Resilience Plan