Adaptive Reuse

Adaptive Reuse (AR) refers to the practice of converting older residential and commercial buildings to new uses including apartments, lofts, office space, retail space and even small hotels. Effective AR policies use tax incentives and low-cost loans to encourage developers to purchase and re-develop buildings or whole neighborhoods rather than continuing to expand the built environment into open space and natural areas.

Many AR projects in the past were focused primarily on blighted urban neighborhoods because of a need for low income housing and jobs. Today AR has become the new "green frontier" - a place where the utilization of existing structures, the reclamation of materials, reduction of the waste stream, and the preservation of open space are the prime considerations.

Brick Buildig with fire escapes

The New York City  Governors Island Redevelopment Initiative is a large scale example of adaptive reuse consisting of development sites and more than 50 historic buildings ready to be repurposed for various uses.

Plainwell, MI has worked over several years to adapt the Plainwell Paper Mill through historic preservation and mixed-use superfund redevelopment.

Springfield, MO has been working for over 15 years to reclaim historic buildings as well as cleaning up and facilitating the redevelopment or reuse of brownfields sites and potentially contaminated properties.


The National Trust for Historic Preservation provides information on how to support adaptive reuse of historic buildings.

The Connect Our Future Initiative is a North Carolina regional program for adaptive reuse.

The Design Trust for Public Space in New York spearheaded many adaptive reuse projects that can serve as models for other municipalities working on similar ventures.

The City of Los Angeles has developed a comprehensive adaptive reuse policy. The downloadable handbook contains all of the regulations the city has adopted over several years to encourage adaptive reuse.


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[3] Kotval-K, Z., et al. (2017) Should the public sector play a greater role funding brownfield redevelopment projects? A transatlantic comparison. International Planning Studies, 22(4), 366-383.

[4] Chamberlain, F. F., & Riggs, W. (2018). The TOD and Smart Growth Implications of the Los Angeles Adaptive Reuse Ordinance. Sustainable Cities and Society, 38, 594-606.

[5] Ryberg, S. R. (2011). Preservation at the Grassroots: Pittsburgh’s Manchester and Cincinnati’s Mt. Auburn Neighborhoods. Journal of Planning History, 10(2), 139-163.

[6] Boschmann, E. E., & Gabriel, J. N. (2013). Urban sustainability and the LEED rating system: Case studies on the role of regional characteristics and adaptive reuse in green building in Denver and Boulder, Colorado. The Geographical Journal, 179(3), 221-233.

[7] Iacovidou, E., & Purnell, P. (2016). Mining the physical infrastructure: Opportunities, barriers and interventions in promoting structural components reuse. Science of the Total Environment, 557-558, 791-807.

[8] Mısırlısoy, D., & Günçe, K. (2016). Adaptive reuse strategies for heritage buildings: A holistic approach. Sustainable Cities and Society, 26, 91-98.