Spatial encounters within the built environment have power; the narratives such encounters represent shape our understanding of who we are and who we can be. The decisive use of space has power: it determines which publics and stories can stake a claim in the landscape and be encountered. No matter how much historical narratives are challenged or reinterpreted in prose or imagery, spatial encounters bear repeated witness to particular ideas of self and community that are profoundly experiential. Landscape, as a representation of history, is “not only observed, read or understood,” it is “practiced.”1 For those working in the realms of historic preservation, planning, and urban policy, there is as much to learn from the pathologies of this power as there is from its judicious use.
Historic preservation, as a form of public policy, seeks to enable such spatial encounters through heritage designation and management. The preservation enterprise helps fashion the physical contours of memory in public space, and thus has the power to curate a multidimensional and inclusive representation of societal values and narratives. This is an awesome responsibility. Yet all too often, preservation is characterized as a reaction—to change, to deterioration, to encroaching development, to impending loss, to forces beyond its control. Its affirmative role in spatializing history is cast as one of stewardship, suggesting that decisions about what to preserve, what represents our diverse stories, are largely driven by the actions of those who came before. Even the word “heritage,” defined as “something transmitted by or acquired from a predecessor,” suggests that the past, through such bequeathals, has a certain authority over how we in the present see ourselves.2
Scholarship over the past quarter century has challenged this passive concept of heritage by asserting that heritage does not possess some sort of inherent value, imbued by our forebears and later discerned by architectural historians, archaeologists, and other experts. There is a growing body of knowledge examining the socially constructed nature of heritage, whereby multiple publics ascribe value to places and such values change over time.3 There is likewise an increasing awareness within the preservation field of the ways in which narratives are reinforced by spatial encounters with the past, and thus there is greater scrutiny of whose narratives are represented—or not—in the built environment. Beyond whose stories are told and whose are excluded, there is also mounting concern for how multiple publics actually participate in the political processes of preservation. How diverse communities value and experience particular places and memories may not necessarily conform to expert norms or dominant worldviews, and the field of preservation is now recognizing the need for platforms and practices that allow for discursive decision-making and shared agency among a multiplicity of stakeholders. Heritage and its preservation are also increasingly mobilized as vehicles for positive change, to give voice and spatial recognition to the underrepresented and the disempowered, and to challenge hegemonic narratives.
While more inclusive storytelling and decision-making are gaining traction and prompting innovation at the project level and among some practitioners, shifts in preservation governance structures and the policy toolbox have been slower to develop, with exploration of inclusive practices happening in more ad hoc ways. How government policy will evolve to better ensure just representation and processes may hinge, in part, on the question of government’s role in just outcomes. Advocacy-driven research has quantified the positive economic effects of preservation on communities, but recent scholarship suggests that preservation benefits—economic and otherwise—may not be equitably distributed.
As a form of public policy, preservation is compelled to reconcile disparate outcomes with its purpose of serving society writ large. Thinking about systemic shifts toward inclusion at the policy level requires the field to also reflect on its own actions in both perpetuating and combating patterns and practices of exclusion. For example, the geographic distribution of recognized heritage in the urban landscape can often be uneven. In the case of New York City, as of 2014, less than 4 percent of lots across the city’s five boroughs were regulated by the Landmarks Preservation Commission (LPC), though 27 percent of lots in Manhattan were LPC-regulated.4 Residents of historic districts across New York City tend to be wealthier, more educated, and more likely to be white, as are those who support designation of historic districts in New York, suggesting that some narratives and publics may be more privileged in the preservation
The built environment itself can serve as a conduit for inequality. The persistence of certain structures or sites and the effects of decisions over time can perpetuate patterns of segregation and exacerbate injustice. There are long histories of spatially marginalizing populations—especially people of color, the foreign-born, and/or the poor—through decisions about land use, zoning and restrictive covenants, building codes, transportation, affordable housing, and financial lending. Redlining and urban renewal, for example, have had disproportionate impacts on vulnerable communities that continue to resonate today. Despite the seemingly endless churn of creative destruction in cities, urban landscapes still signal “the cumulative buildup of investment and planning decisions inherited from previous eras”6 and what Dolores Hayden characterizes as the “architectural legacies of wealth and power.7 Such legacies of exclusion are entrenched within the built environment and contribute to inequitable decision-making about what constitutes “historic.”
The lack of minority histories on heritage lists from the municipal to the national level helped spur the establishment of the National Trust’s African American Cultural Heritage Action Fund, Asian and Pacific Islander Americans in Historic Preservation, Latinos in Heritage Conservation, the New York City LGBT Historic Sites Project, and other advocacy and funding entities. But simply adding more diverse sites to heritage lists is not enough to redress social and spatial disparities. Racial, ethnic, and religious minorities, enslaved and indigenous people, the economically disadvantaged, women, and those identifying as LGBTQ could not historically claim or occupy space freely or equally. Spaces representing their narratives have been underinvested in and undervalued, and were often made invisible or systematically destroyed. Accordingly, preservation must grapple with how its norms and standards, which privilege architectural value and material integrity, can perpetuate injustice.
The importance of the historic built environment in shaping sociospatial relationships through time precludes a simple reinterpretation of the past to acknowledge more narratives. Promoting inclusion means embracing the affirmative role heritage and its preservation can play in reconciliation and restorative justice. It likewise involves tackling difficult questions about preservation’s own past and future with reflection and intentionality.
Urban Heritage, Sustainability, and Social Inclusion is a collaboration of the Columbia University Graduate School of Architecture, Planning, and Preservation, the Earth Institute–Center for Sustainable Urban Development, and the American Assembly, with the support of the New York Community Trust. The collaboration seeks to explore the horizon of preservation policy by examining the social, environmental, and technological factors that shape and challenge its evolution. Through invitational symposia and the publication series Issues in Preservation Policy, this initiative seeks to forge stronger connections among researchers, decision-makers, and practitioners in the field and to spur a dialogue about the systemic shifts needed to reform preservation policy so it can better foster equitable and resilient communities.
This volume evolved from a symposium in February 2019 that centered on questions of preservation and social inclusion. The symposium examined how multiple publics are—or are not—represented in heritage decision-making, geographies, and policy structures. It follows a previous symposium and publication, Preservation and the New Data Landscape, which examined how the preservation enterprise is engaging, shaping, learning from, and capitalizing on the new landscape of urban data to forge evidence-based research, co-produce knowledge with communities, and inform policy agendas. A key theme of this previous inquiry was the need for preservation to ask better questions in order to tell better stories, “stories that represent the diversity of our communities, stories that redress spatial and social inequities, and stories that reflect our collective agency in promoting a sustainable environment.”8
To prompt this subsequent inquiry, we asked participants to consider the following questions:
• How are diverse narratives and communities being represented or excluded through preservation?
• Who is participating in preservation processes, and how can preservation decision-making better engage multiple publics?
• What are the effects of preservation policies and processes on communities?
Attempts to answer these questions are what form this hybrid volume—comprising research texts, interviews, and commentaries—and constitute a burgeoning dialogue among scholars and practitioners seeking to challenge the status quo. Several themes emerged that can inform efforts to shift preservation policy toward greater social inclusion.
—ACKNOWLEDGING THE PAST
Seated in a conference room in the Empire State Building, surrounded by privileged views of the ever-rising New York skyline, we began our exploration of preservation and social inclusion with a land acknowledgment, recognizing that the symposium was taking place on Lenape lands. This practice has been both praised and criticized, but one might argue that it is a persuasive, though inadequate, vehicle for helping us to be accountable for our part in history.9 The past is complicated, and the preservation enterprise—as a means of constructing collective identity through perceptions of the past—is highly political in that it confronts decisions about whose narratives should occupy space and be encountered. Such acknowledgments help to restore a sense of historical context and may enable us to broach difficult and uncomfortable questions about both the past and the present with greater awareness and sensitivity.
The need to acknowledge the past echoes throughout this volume. Understanding historical processes and their influence on present conditions is at the heart of the preservation toolbox, and applying these methods to the social dynamics and political contexts of heritage decision-making is a critical first step in healing rifts and redressing inequalities. Janet Hansen and Sara Delgadillo Cruz illustrate this poignantly and in very practical terms with the case of the Kinney-Tabor house in Venice, California. The site was rejected for heritage designation in 1968 because the house had been relocated and altered, thereby compromising its historic integrity per preservation standards. Abbot Kinney was the founder of Venice, and after his death the house was gifted to his longtime employee and confidante, Irving Tabor, who was Black. In 1925 racial covenants and neighbor objections thwarted Tabor’s attempt to occupy the home, so he moved the house to Oakwood, an African American enclave of Venice. In 2008 the house was reconsidered and formally designated as a result of this complex history, which tells an important story of marginalization both in terms of the right to occupy space and preservation’s complicity in perpetuating injustice.
Exclusion is not limited to particular sites but can also be endemic in the chronicles of preservation activism. Fallon Samuels Aidoo dives deeply into the history of preservation efforts in West Mount Airy, Philadelphia, which is regarded as an early success in neighborhood racial integration. Community members embarked on grassroots efforts to preserve their railroad station houses in the face of economic and environmental challenges. Archival research into the organizational actors who advocated for, implemented, and funded projects reveals how philanthropic investment created new dynamics and distrust between citizen efforts and “professional” preservation, which at times discounted and undermined community-based preservation and the bonds of cooperation upon which it relied. In studying preservation in the Buckeye neighborhood of Cleveland, Ohio, dating from the 1970s, Stephanie Ryberg-Webster found that biases toward architectural significance and origin stories continue to undermine African American residents and their heritage more than forty years later: “Without direct efforts to value the complexity of stories and meaning, preservationists will also be implicated in the othering and dismissal of marginalized people.”
Maria Rosario Jackson observes that “one of the markers of an unjust society is that the ability to transmit heritage has been hampered, as is the case with a lot of marginalized communities.” She cautions that planning, community development, creative place-making, and even preservation are not ahistorical and should include analyses of socioeconomic conditions, root causes, and power dynamics. Donna Graves drives this point home by noting that this “through line between an ongoing legacy of historic discrimination and contemporary injustice” serves as a powerful impulse toward recognizing new stories and forms of heritage. It likewise serves as a cautionary reminder of the need for preservation to interrogate its own history to make inclusion meaningful.
Such reflection on preservation’s past is not limited to decisions about what to preserve and how. As a form of public policy that exercises sociospatial control, how preservation has historically positioned itself within a societal agenda and in relation to other policy arenas teaches valuable lessons for advancing inclusion. In charting the intersecting histories of preservation and community development in New York City (both of which emerged as citizen-led movements), Vicki Weiner finds important synergies and shared aims between the two but also a reluctance on the part of preservationists to directly engage social justice. By defaulting to the ways that market forces affect buildings, with limited focus on people, preservation evades important sociospatial dynamics and forgoes opportunities to systematically instrumentalize its work to achieve economic equity and inclusion. In examining the historical and discursive connections between preservation and affordable housing, Caroline S. Cheong likewise finds that the intersectional history is rife with conflicting narratives and research. Preservation asserts its positive role in simultaneously improving property values and protecting affordability, with evidence often tailored in response to particular criticisms of and challenges to the status quo. Greater accountability on the part of preservation and more unbiased research into the politics of the field’s past is needed to identify the barriers to and opportunities for such shared agendas and policy reform.
Forging agendas that instrumentalize heritage work toward more just and inclusive ends means not only incorporating more voices but also sharing decision-making and ceding some of preservation’s normative power. Emma Osore asserts that a key to more inclusive preservation lies in co-creating opportunities with the communities who contend with legacies of marginalization every day. In her work with BlackSpace, in the New York neighborhood of Brownsville, Osore notes that those involved in the project “became heritage conservationists according to our own definition. As Black urbanists, we sought to save and understand cultural touchstones unique to Black people.” Brent Leggs, Jenna Dublin, and Michael Powe explain how the National Trust, working in historically African American neighborhoods, brought on emerging scholars and practitioners as fellows to engage with communities as part of their efforts to diversify who is ascribing value to older places. By empowering both a younger generation of preservationists as well as underrepresented publics, the National Trust acknowledges a role for preservation in promoting social justice and civic agency.
A critical observation emerging from the symposium was that the burden of inclusion cannot be borne solely by the excluded. Aidoo reflects that a greater understanding of past and present alliances is warranted to inform new kinds of allyship in preservation. The National Trust’s establishment of the African American Cultural Heritage Action Fund, which supported the aforementioned research, serves as a case in point for how preservation institutions can—and should—support the agency of others. Michelle G. Magalong recounts how in 2011, in an effort to address the “diversity deficit” in heritage conservation, the National Park Service (NPS) embarked on an initiative to enhance representation of Asian Americans, Native Hawaiians, and Pacific Islanders, as well as Latino Americans, Native Americans, African Americans, women, and LGBTQ communities in the National Historic Landmarks Program and other areas of the NPS.10 This, along with support from the National Trust, helped to spur the creation of the organization Asian and Pacific Islander Americans in Historic Preservation, which leverages the efforts of local groups across the country to a national platform.
Several contributors speak to questions of agency through the lens of community engagement. Jackson emphasizes the need for ethical engagement through a deep understanding of the complexity of community stories and desires. Ciere Boatright, in discussing the work of Chicago Neighborhood Initiatives (CNI) in the historic Pullman neighborhood, describes their emphasis on authentic engagement. Through iterative processes of listening and responding, CNI shares decision-making about multimillion-dollar investment and development with the community, and leverages the interests of local residents as part of community benefits agreements with incoming businesses. By integrating preservation within broader strategies for job creation, affordable housing, and neighborhood revitalization, Boatright and CNI build trust and position preservation as a vehicle for broader benefits. Likewise, Sangita Chari, with the NPS Office of Relevancy, Diversity, and Inclusion, underscores the need for communities to see preservation in relation to more commonly understood public benefits, like good schools and health care, in order to more fully realize their agency. Claudia Guerra, as cultural historian with the Office of Historic Preservation in San Antonio, Texas, characterizes her role as that of a translator between communities and policy-makers, interpreting values and interests as well as building trust in both directions to achieve mutually beneficial goals.
Both Ryberg-Webster and Guerra observe that professional preservationists are not always well equipped to navigate these complex processes of engaging and sharing decision-making with diverse publics. Andrea Roberts’s work with the Texas Historical Commission demonstrates how such processes often involve the delicate work of decentering dominant narratives with long-vested stakeholders. Chari contends that “telling the more accurate story—the one that’s more inclusive, the one that is potentially less happy—takes a great deal of skill… it takes resilience, and it takes the ability to weather pushback when the public is challenged to rethink its assumptions.” While calls for community engagement resonate throughout the heritage field, professionals and institutions still must build their own capacities to undertake such processes with integrity, sensitivity, and intentionality.
Taking inclusion seriously obliges preservation to look at how it identifies and designates heritage with respect to underrepresented or marginalized communities, and also to examine the effects of designation. Graves harks back to the seminal study “Five Views: An Ethnic Historic Site Survey for California” as both a moment of insight and a missed opportunity. The study was conducted in the 1980s expressly “to broaden the spectrum of ethnic community participation in historic preservation activities and to provide better information on ethnic history and associated sites,” and it positioned itself as a starting point for additional research and engagement.11 While Graves sees more awareness and change within policy infrastructure today, it has taken a long time to understand how these issues complicate the way we think about and manage heritage.
One such example of shifts in the policy landscape is SurveyLA. Hansen and Delgadillo Cruz explain the use of historic contexts to reflect and integrate ethnic and cultural histories in Los Angeles, but they also acknowledge the complexity of addressing intersectionality as well as immigration, settlement, and migration patterns across the urban landscape. With more than 140 nationalities represented in the city, they speak to the factors that shaped priorities in creating the historic contexts and caution that “contexts themselves can be exclusionary when not all groups are recognized.”
Beyond informing designation, there is a need to better understand how landmark and district designation impact neighborhoods. Ingrid Gould Ellen, Brian J. McCabe, and Gerard Torrats-Espinosa note the limited attention “paid to the types of neighborhoods that are actually designated or the impact of the designation process on neighborhoods and the people living in them.” Building on previous research that suggests that the designation of historic districts may accelerate the process of demographic change, they examine New York City neighborhoods before historic district designation and after in an effort to describe economic characteristics and effects.12 Predesignation, they find that these neighborhoods housed more economically advantaged residents compared to other neighborhoods with housing stocks from a similar era. Postdesignation, residents grew even more advantaged. Similarly, in the National Trust’s analysis of African American neighborhoods in cities across the United States, Leggs, Dublin, and Powe explore economic exclusion alongside race. They find that while historically African American neighborhoods are underrepresented in local and national heritage designation programs, some traditional preservation tools—like designation—may exacerbate issues of affordability and displacement. Such findings compel preservation advocates and policy-makers to invest resources in such research, so as to better align their work with agendas promoting affordability and economic inclusivity alongside other forms of inclusion.
Indeed, another critical aspect of inclusion within the preservation enterprise is understanding the many dimensions of and means of characterizing exclusion, including race, ethnicity, class, religion, gender, sexual orientation, and more. Mark J. Stern analyzes the varying lenses on and perceptions of exclusion as a backdrop for asking questions about the role and effects of historic and cultural resources within communities. Through his work on the Social Impact of the Arts Project, Stern finds that the presence of cultural assets in low- and moderate-income neighborhoods in New York City is associated with significantly better social well-being (though still below the citywide average), suggesting that “although the presence of cultural assets corresponds with a reduction in the impact of structural social exclusion, it does not erase the process and practice of exclusion.” Such evidence likewise suggests important points for policy-makers as they decide where and how to invest in heritage preservation.
To confront the geographies and structural legacies of exclusion through and within preservation, space is a critical and complicating factor. The physical vestiges of marginalized groups are more than just underrepresented within heritage rosters; many have been systematically devalued, destroyed, or made invisible due to long-standing histories of bias. Hansen and Delgadillo Cruz, in discussing SurveyLA’s historic context on women’s rights in Los Angeles, observe the challenges of identifying significant places associated with women when their stories are underrecorded and underrepresentative of women of color. Andrew S. Dolkart, through his work on the NYC LGBT Historic Sites Project, explains how space becomes a vehicle for reconstructing incomplete or false histories. Popular narratives, for example, wrongly demarcate Stonewall as the moment that initiated gay history in part because the events and places where LGBT people interacted in the past were intentionally hidden or transient.
Mapping and digital platforms serve as additional tools for staking spatial claims and reconstructing histories and countermemories. The NYC LGBT Historic Sites Project, for example, interprets places through an interactive map.13 Magalong references the crowdsourced online map East at Main Street, which “documents and tells the stories of people, places, and events associated with Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders.”14 And Andrea Roberts explains how the Texas Freedom Colonies Atlas, another online mapping tool, serves as a platform for collaborators to collect and store data about Black settlements.15
But as Roberts asserts, rendering such places visible and geographic requires spaces for cocreation with those whose stories have been omitted, annulled, or deliberately forgotten. Her work with East Texas freedom colony descendants to record the origin stories of Black communities critically illustrates how dominant white constructions of place and public history obscure past and present Black agency in place-keeping and preservation. While the archival void of Black histories and places complicates this disremembering, Roberts explores new ways of listening for and documenting the “null value.” She describes place-based activities of storytelling, stewardship, and annual commemorative events, which at once reproduce cultural knowledge about freedom colonies and create spaces of counternarrative.
Settlements like the freedom colonies are becoming increasingly invisible with the loss of populations and buildings, especially as access to traditional preservation tools—like designation of historic districts—has been limited due to structural barriers and bias. But the persistent relationship between people and place, even if largely dependent on oral traditions rather than historic buildings, speaks to the power of space and spatial encounters for memory, recognition, and the decentering of dominant narratives.
But claims to space can be complicated, particularly in dynamic urban areas with diverse populations. To counter the displacement of marginalized communities and their living traditions, San Francisco has pioneered a new form of cultural district, several of which have been created in association with LGBTQ communities. As Graves comments, “foregrounding queer identity and sexual practices as legitimate aspects of culture really pushes the boundaries of preservation and what heritage means.” Encouraging such claims to space as part of the preservation toolbox is groundbreaking, but Graves cautions that such policy tools are still being tested: recognizing and creating spatial boundaries for a particular community can exclude others who may inhabit the same neighborhood. How multiple narratives occupy and stake claim to the same spaces remains a significant challenge.
Closely tied to questions of spatial claims are those of materiality. Ryberg-Webster observes, “Architecture and integrity are often the gateways to preservation protections and benefits, but, in marginalized communities, they are an excuse for exclusion”—as is evidenced by efforts in Cleveland to survey African American historic resources. Dolkart and Graves contend that architectural historians, while crucial to the preservation enterprise, are overrepresented in the field. This contributes to an underrepresentation of diverse social histories and values and an emphasis on the material, formal, and aesthetic dimensions of heritage. These factors, in turn, further exclude already disadvantaged communities who often did not have the means or freedom to invest in design, construction, and maintenance, or whose historic spaces were transient, hidden, or demolished. Roberts extends this assessment of exclusion to the documentation standards established for National Register listing, which privilege text-based archives and photographic records, thereby discounting other, less material forms of knowledge keeping and contributing to a “preservation apartheid.”
Such material barriers are not limited to designation. Cheong and Weiner argue that the prioritization of original form and fabric precludes stronger alignment with affordable housing and community development agendas, respectively, and thus further distances preservation from potential policy allies. Osore found that in their heritage work in Brownsville, BlackSpace members “had to unlearn the habits of our professions, which treat disinvested spaces as a blank slate ripe for urban development and new design ideas.”
Public outcry after the demolition of the building in San Antonio that housed Univision, the first Spanish-language broadcasting station in the country, compelled the city’s Office of Historic Preservation to reconsider its architecturally focused criteria for designation to better incorporate cultural significance. Guerra likewise underscores preservation’s material focus and its limitations in recognizing “how the intangible is manifested in the tangible.” However, she describes new efforts to better recognize social and use values, as in the case of the planned replacement of the historic Almaguer studio, where the intangible heritage associated with its use as a dance studio trumped its material significance. Such issues surrounding materiality and the tensions between intangible and tangible heritage will continue to challenge the preservation enterprise as it works toward more inclusive policies and practices. An important test will be whether the field can productively step back from and reflect upon long-standing norms to envision alternative futures.
An important indicator of the need for more inclusion in preservation lies in the operational structures and demographics of its institutions. While change may be slow, there are positive shifts on the horizon. Chari, in noting that the NPS workforce is over 80 percent white, questions how such a reality influences the organization’s ability to adequately and sensitively represent diverse narratives, such as the story of civil rights. But in establishing its Office of Relevancy, Diversity, and Inclusion, the NPS asserted its affirmative obligation to represent all Americans and to create a space for the agency “to have critically important, if uncomfortable, conversations.” The training Roberts provided through the Texas Historical Commission’s Certified Local Government Program to address implicit bias and include more freedom colonies in survey processes is one important intervention on the part of the state to promote inclusive preservation. In Los Angeles, collaboration across city agencies has led to the incorporation of heritage resources in the city’s thirty-five community plans. As Hansen and Delgadillo Cruz observe, “Understanding that heritage resources need not be exemplary architectural specimens—or buildings, for that matter—challenges planners to craft policies that sustain and celebrate community heritage in ways that serve the growth and well-being of neighborhoods.” The New York City Landmarks Preservation Commission is recognizing more sites for cultural, not just architectural, significance and is proactively engaging in neighborhoods that are underrepresented in current designations.16 Both San Francisco and San Antonio have instituted legacy business programs to recognize more diverse forms of heritage as part of the social and commercial fabric of the city.
While few and dispersed, such policy shifts within governance structures indicate some momentum toward systemic change. But there is still much work to be done. As Chari concludes, “Diversity and inclusion are really about dismantling the specific ways in which we have operated that are detrimental to everybody… What it becomes about is our capacity to create the change needed to break down silos, to create deliberate connections, and to solve problems that may have felt entrenched but really just needed a new perspective and a willingness to change.” The field of preservation is confronting thorny challenges both within and beyond its core institutions. But a thorough reckoning of its role in inclusion and exclusion presents opportunities for positive social change and a new horizon for the field. As a critical medium of shared identities, values, and stories, heritage practice and policy are uniquely positioned to promote more equitable and inclusive communities through hope, justice, and healing.
Within the field of historic preservation, concerns about diversity, equity, and inclusion are increasingly in the foreground. But ideals about fully representing the diverse narratives of American history and preserving cultural heritage for a wide range of communities often clash with the profession’s standardized methods, policies, and regulations. For instance, windshield surveys, wherein preservationists primarily identify historic buildings by their architecture and aesthetic qualities, are still common practice. Preservation policies, such as those guiding the National Register of Historic Places, emphasize the need for material integrity. In low-income communities, meeting the test of material integrity is particularly challenging given the decades of structural disinvestment in these neighborhoods. Heritage preservation in Cleveland’s Buckeye neighborhood is exemplary of the ongoing difficulties and recent progress in preserving African American urban neighborhoods. For communities with primarily social, cultural, or other nonarchitectural significance, preservationists lack robust strategies.
— CLEVELAND’S RACIAL GEOGRAPHY
Cleveland is racially segregated, predominantly along an east-west divide. The city’s African American neighborhoods are mostly east of the Cuyahoga River and downtown. In the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, the Central neighborhood, just southeast of downtown, was the center of the city’s African American community. As Cleveland developed into an industrial powerhouse in the early 1900s, economic opportunities drew African Americans and immigrants, particularly from Central and Eastern Europe, to the city. Facing severe segregation and discrimination, African Americans settled in Central, establishing residences, businesses, religious institutions such as St. John’s AME Church (est. 1830) and Shiloh Baptist Church (est. 1849), and social service organizations such as the Phillis Wheatley Association (est. 1911), which provided housing for single African American women.
Despite widespread narratives that characterize urban population decline and white flight as late twentieth-century phenomena, many of Cleveland’s core urban neighborhoods began losing population as early as the 1920s and 1930s, a trend that continues today. Beyond Central, the city’s east-side neighborhoods were home to Eastern European immigrants, including one of the nation’s largest Jewish communities. As these residents migrated outward, African American residents followed suit, moving east to neighborhoods formerly inaccessible to them. In many instances, African Americans became the second generation of residents in already built-out neighborhoods such as Hough, Glenville, Fairfax, Buckeye, and Mount Pleasant. In other instances, African Americans were first-generation residents in areas including Lee-Miles and Lee-Harvard, two neighborhoods built after World War II primarily for middle-class Blacks. Today, many of Cleveland’s predominantly African American neighborhoods are more than 80 to 90 percent African American, and Cleveland is one of the most segregated cities in the nation.1
— BUCKEYE: PRESERVATION IN A CHANGING RACIAL LANDSCAPE
Buckeye is located on the city’s east side and shares an eastern border with Shaker Heights, a prominent inner-ring suburb.2 In the early twentieth century, the area was a thriving immigrant enclave, at one point home to the nation’s largest Hungarian American population. It was also home to a large Slovak population, along with smaller groups of other European immigrants. Buckeye’s development spread from west to east (outward from the core) in the early 1900s, and by 1950 it was home to nearly twenty-one thousand residents.
During the 1950s, the area’s white ethnic residents began migrating to newly available housing in the suburbs. At the same time, African Americans began moving eastward out of more central neighborhoods, often driven by forced relocation stemming from urban renewal demolition and freeway construction. During the 1960s, western Buckeye became predominantly African American; similar racial turnover occurred in eastern Buckeye during the 1970s.
After peaking in 1950, the neighborhood’s population has decreased by about 40 percent; today, fewer than fourteen thousand residents call Buckeye home. As a result of that population decline, Buckeye faced increases in the rates of vacant and abandoned housing and the deterioration of its local business district. Racist lending and real estate practices exacerbated this decline because African American residents lacked access to capital to reinvest in housing or to open businesses. Public investment was increasingly constrained as the city’s tax base eroded. Since 1980 more than 6 percent of Buckeye’s housing has been demolished. During that same period, the housing vacancy rate skyrocketed from 6 percent in 1980 to 19 percent in 2010. The poverty rate in eastern Buckeye is 29 percent, and it is an astounding 51 percent in the western part of the neighborhood.3
Preserving Buckeye in the 1970s
Preservation efforts in Buckeye first emerged during the 1970s but had little lasting impact. In the late 1960s, the Buckeye Neighborhood Nationalities Civic Association (BNNCA), a community organization representing the interests of the remaining Hungarian and other white ethnic residents, vociferously opposed the rapid racial change in the neighborhood. The association threatened that the neighborhood would secede from Cleveland, and members formed their own vigilante-style police force. From the point of view of the white residents, Buckeye needed to be protected from property deterioration, rising instability, escalating crime, and urban crisis. The BNNCA leaders were inspired by efforts elsewhere that grounded urban revitalization in ethnic identity, particularly the example of the Columbus, Ohio, neighborhood of German Village. In 1970 they formed a Hungarian Village Committee that organized cultural festivals, held ethnic parades, and promoted Hungarian businesses. These efforts continued through 1975, but by 1976 the annual Hungarian parade was canceled due to low participation and lack of interest.4
The Buckeye Area Development Corporation (BADC) and Buckeye-Woodland Community Congress (BWCC) formed in the early 1970s. The former was a local development corporation focused on Buckeye’s mixed-use business district along Buckeye Road and the surrounding residential areas; it turned to preservation as one strategy within a broad revitalization agenda. FIG. 1 The latter was more of an organizing and advocacy group that emphasized anti-redlining strategies, community coalition building, and housing improvements. The BWCC advocated for both demolition and rehabilitation, depending on conditions. For instance, to advocate for housing rehabilitation, it helped establish low-interest loan programs in the area. At the same time, it lobbied the city for more aggressive demolition of blighted properties, even demolishing buildings on its own when the city failed to act.5
In the early 1970s, the Cleveland Landmarks Commission (CLC) also turned its attention to Buckeye. From 1974 to 1975, it led an architectural survey of the neighborhood in collaboration with Kent State University.6 The report focused on Buckeye Road and concluded that the “architectural character of the Buckeye Community is a strong and potent element.”7 The study highlighted about a dozen landmark buildings and significant architectural characteristics in three categories: religious, residential, and commercial. Overall, the CLC focused on the area’s architecture and materials more than its cultural or social heritage.8
Simultaneous with the CLC study, the BADC partnered with Kent State on a planning study for Buckeye Road. That these two studies occurred in the same year but were not coordinated reveals the lack of collaboration between preservationists and community developers. The BADC study noted Buckeye Road’s architectural uniqueness and the diverse mix of businesses along the corridor. While the number of Hungarian-owned businesses had declined significantly, they still retained a presence alongside a growing number of African American-owned enterprises.9
The idea of establishing a neighborhood conservation district in Buckeye emerged out of these studies. The CLC, working with the ward council member, proposed the Buckeye Historic Conservation Zone, wherein the CLC would serve in an advisory role without the binding authority that came with traditional landmark designations.10 By the summer of 1976, the CLC, the planning commission, the BWCC, the BADC, and the city council supported the idea.11 The CLC produced a draft ordinance and design manual, but the proposal hit a roadblock in 1977 when the city’s legal department concluded that conservation zones were not permissible under the existing landmarks ordinance and that either new legislation or an ordinance amendment was necessary.12 No such changes were ever implemented.
Even without preservation protections, the BADC ramped up revitalization along Buckeye Road. In July 1976 it received a $241,800 grant from the US Department of Housing and Urban Development to support improvements, including city-funded beautification efforts (e.g., streetscaping) and BADC-driven reinvestment (e.g., building rehabilitations).13 The BADC marketed the area’s Hungarian roots; for instance, it planned a small park designed with an “ethnic motif” as a “visible statement of Hungarian renewal in the community.”14 In reports to the community, the BADC promoted the area’s Hungarian and Slovak heritage while downplaying its current “cosmopolitan” character.15
In the early 1980s, the BADC launched another short-lived effort to secure historic district designation for an area with boundaries nearly identical to those of the earlier conservation zone. BADC leaders believed that a historic district would protect against incompatible development, including fast-food restaurants and convenience retail. The Hungarian narrative still dominated these efforts, with BADC leaders arguing that Buckeye was “the center of Hungarian culture and heritage in the Cleveland area.”16 In 1985 the area’s last Hungarian business, a butcher shop, relocated from Buckeye Road to a nearby suburb.17
Ultimately, preservationists and community developers struggled to navigate the demands of the area’s Eastern European heritage, its growing African American population, and increasing community development needs such as housing rehabilitation, commercial revitalization, and affordability. The revitalization of Buckeye as a Hungarian village failed to take hold amid rapid racial change—preservationists and community developers failed to connect preservation to the identity of Buckeye’s African American residents and their needs.
Preserving Buckeye in the 2010s
Preservation debates have reemerged in Buckeye in recent years. As residential vacancy rates skyrocketed across Ohio, the nonprofit Western Reserve Land Conservancy created the Thriving Communities Institute to help revitalize the state’s urban centers.18 The institute’s fee- based property surveys graded buildings from A (excellent) to F (unsafe/hazard). Buildings graded D or F were often prioritized for demolition. In 2013 the St. Luke’s Foundation granted the institute $734,000 to survey an area around the historic St. Luke’s Hospital, including portions of Buckeye. The foundation had recently partnered on a massive adaptive reuse project to convert the historic hospital into affordable housing, a charter school, and nonprofit office space.19 The foundation, along with Cleveland Neighborhood Progress, a community development umbrella organization, sought to use the hospital rehabilitation to anchor neighborhood revitalization and sought the property survey to inform understanding about surrounding property conditions.
Thriving Communities Institute then hired the Cleveland Restoration Society (CRS) to review 1,020 D/F properties in the area, reflecting an implicit understanding that Buckeye possesses unprotected historic resources. CRS conducted a windshield survey of the buildings, with scant attention to social or cultural meaning, and determined that twenty-one (2 percent) of the structures should be prioritized for rehabilitation instead of demolition. Twenty of these were significant for their architectural and historical significance, with the latter attributable to building age rather than social or cultural associations.20 What this survey illustrates is a preservation practice that overly relies on architectural significance, struggles with cultural and social inclusion, and fails to account for evolving stories of place—in this case, the contributions of the African Americans who have called Buckeye home for nearly fifty years. In Buckeye, preservationists have yet to offer strategies that contribute to neighborhood stabilization and revitalization for the area’s existing residents or that go beyond the limitations of architectural heritage.
— FROM SURVEYS TO DEEP ENGAGEMENT
In Cleveland, two survey efforts, conducted thirty years apart (in 1982 and 2012), sought to identify, document, and preserve the city’s African American heritage. On their face, both suggest that Cleveland has few significant African American heritage sites—an erroneous conclusion. In fact, what these surveys reveal is that preservationists’ attempts to identify non-architecturally significant resources are deeply flawed. In recent years, signs have emerged that preservationists are shifting toward deeper community engagement, hinting at the possibility of a more inclusive, representative, and just future for historic preservation.
“Black History Thematic Resources in Cleveland”
In its first decade, the CLC progressively conferred landmark designation on a handful of African American-affiliated sites, including St. John’s AME, Shiloh Baptist Church, Antioch Baptist Church, Lane Metropolitan CME Church, the Afro American Cultural and Historical Society, the Phillis Wheatley Association, and Karamu House.21 The designation of African American-affiliated sites continued in the 1980s, with preservationists expanding their focus to national-level recognition.22 In 1981 the state’s regional preservation officer prepared the “Black History Thematic Resources in Cleveland” nomination for the National Register of Historic Places. The designation, approved in 1982 and endorsed by the CLC, included eight properties (seven of which were in Central) that represented four areas of African American life: churches, social service agencies, businesses, and social/cultural institutions. FIG. 2 Preservationists framed these buildings as rare survivors of urban renewal, urban decline, and African American out-migration from the central city.23 This effort recognized the significance of sites affiliated with the city’s African American community, but, at the same time, the inclusion of only eight buildings clearly underrepresents the significance of the city’s African American history. Furthermore, National Register listing provided no real protection for these sites, and two have been demolished since the designation.
“Landmarks of Cleveland’s African American Experience”
In 2012, to commemorate the fortieth anniversary of its founding, CRS embarked on another effort to survey the city’s African American historic resources. Through its “Landmarks of Cleveland’s African American Experience” project, CRS sought to identify significant African American heritage sites, promote National Register and/or local designation of those sites, celebrate and communicate the project’s findings as a way to help stabilize neighborhoods and attract residents, and commemorate the sites with plaques or markers.24 A task force of preservation experts and African American civic leaders guided CRS through the process. Using secondary sources and the task force’s input, CRS focused their windshield survey efforts on the predominantly African American neighborhoods of Hough, Glenville, Central, Fairfax, Mt. Pleasant, Kinsman, University Circle, and Buckeye. They also conducted a limited survey in the Ludlow neighborhood, which spans the border of Cleveland and Shaker Heights, and in a cluster of communities in the city’s far southeast corner (Lee-Miles, Miles-Seville, Union-Miles, Park/Corlett, and Lee-Harvard).
The project’s grant funding stipulated that CRS had to complete 150 Ohio Historic Inventory forms. This two-page form is the basis for Ohio’s statewide historic survey but provides no systems for protection. The form’s brevity facilitates the completion of large-scale surveys but does not encourage deep research or engagement. The target of 150 forms, or 150 individual properties, was an arbitrary goal. The one-year grant period was also a constraint, as CRS had to conduct the background research, convene task force meetings, complete the windshield survey, and prepare all required written reports and documentation within this period.25
The project produced disappointing results. The quota-driven effort resulted in historic inventory forms for 91 buildings and one neighborhood of 59 homes in the already designated Ludlow National Register Historic District, an area along the border of Cleveland and Shaker Heights. The inclusion of the Ludlow neighborhood, deemed important for its role in integrating Shaker Heights, seemed more like an attempt to meet the quota of 150 than a good-faith effort to identify African American historic sites. Of the 91 other buildings, only 12 were significant for their affiliation with African American heritage and had designation potential.26 FIG. 3 In other words, in a project designed to identify and protect African American historic resources, CRS identified 79 buildings that had no affiliation with the city’s African American community or were not eligible for any form of historic designation. The main reasons that buildings did not meet eligibility criteria were a lack of provenance (insufficient available recorded history) and a lack of material integrity (excessive alterations).
CRS’s 2012 effort lent credence to perceptions that preservationists place too much value on architecture and material integrity, to the detriment of culturally and socially significant sites. CRS did not engage local residents and prioritized completing an arbitrary number of forms over organically identifying African American heritage sites.
“The Making of Cleveland’s Black Suburb in the City”
The “Landmarks of Cleveland’s African American Experience” project, while flawed, elevated local interest in preserving African American heritage, particularly in the city’s southeast neighborhoods. In 2016 the councilman for Ward 1, which includes Lee-Harvard, approached CRS about using preservation to stabilize and promote the area. At the same time, CRS was looking for ways to continue its work protecting African American heritage—the invitation to explore the history of Ward 1/ Lee-Harvard proved opportune. Ultimately, this led to the Restoration Society’s “The Making of Cleveland’s Black Suburb in the City” project, which continues as of this writing.
Located on the city’s southeast side, Lee-Harvard dates to the post- World War II era and resembles many postwar suburbs: small houses along tree-lined residential streets, connected to mid-century thoroughfares and commercial corridors. Along with its neighbors, Lee-Miles and Lee-Seville, Lee-Harvard was built for middle-class African Americans who wanted to leave overcrowded, poorly maintained, and rapidly deteriorating inner-city neighborhoods. The population of Lee-Harvard has remained relatively stable over time, experiencing population decline that is mild compared to that of the city as a whole (22 percent since 1980).27 Today, Lee-Harvard has an aging building stock and an aging population, with many original residents still living in the neighborhood.
Among CRS’s first discoveries were developments built by entrepreneurial African American builder-developers in the 1940s and 1950s. In the mid-twentieth century, African Americans did not have easy access to capital or loans, which made running successful businesses, including home-building businesses, difficult. As CRS staff learned about Arthur Bussey, one such builder-developer, they identified a few streets with an intact collection of his homes. Based on CRS’s research and documentation, the landmarks commission approved the Arthur Bussey Development Landmark District in 2016. FIG. 4 While the district is significant for its social, cultural, and economic history, CRS also emphasized its material integrity “with many properties still exhibiting original mid-century details such as aluminum awnings and wrought iron railings.”28
Understanding Lee-Harvard’s heritage required CRS to adopt new strategies, including community engagement. In fall 2016 CRS sponsored two public events, one at the Harvard Community Services Center, the neighborhood-based community development corporation, and one at the Levin College of Urban Affairs at Cleveland State University. These events promoted the area’s history and featured scholar Todd Michney, whose recent book, Surrogate Suburbs, focuses on the history and development of Cleveland’s African American communities, including those in Ward 1.29 In addition, CRS successfully applied for grants from the Ohio Humanities Council and the National Endowment for the Humanities to support community engagement efforts. With this funding, CRS for the first time implemented documentation strategies including resident storytelling events, oral histories, and archiving neighborhood ephemera such as residents’ personal photo albums and scrapbooks.
CRS has now expanded to focus on both Lee-Harvard and Lee-Seville, securing an Ohio History Fund grant in March 2019 to support a publication about African American builder-developers and the heritage of these important and largely overlooked neighborhoods.30 CRS’s work in Ward 1 was the first time it directly engaged with one of the city’s African American communities. In a recent blog post, CRS’s longtime director, Kathleen Crowther, summarized the shift that the project represented for the organization:
The effort was transformative for CRS in terms of building partnerships, identifying new funders, understanding community significance, and learning inclusive strategies for identifying underrepresented historic places.
— TOWARD AN INCLUSIVE URBAN PRESERVATION
While preservationists have made strides in recognizing the importance of inclusiveness, preservation tools and strategies often still struggle to achieve this goal. In urban African American neighborhoods, such as those in Cleveland, decades of systematic disinvestment, institutionalized racist lending practices, and, often, high concentrations of poverty have produced a materially altered built environment that is seen to lack integrity according to traditional preservation standards. The rich cultural heritage and historic significance of buildings in these communities is then systematically ignored or devalued by mainstream preservationists. To move toward a more socially just and equitable preservation practice, it is imperative to remove barriers to inclusivity, to understand the dynamics and power structures of decision-making, and to craft short- and long-term agendas that foreground inclusivity.
In many cases, funding drives priorities. Historic preservation costs money, whether for research, documentation, nominations, interpretation, or building rehabilitations. Inclusive preservation requires preservationists to spend money differently. Developing survey strategies that make architecture a secondary or even tertiary consideration, when appropriate, would facilitate the identification of underrepresented historic sites. In many cases, it may be more appropriate to redirect budgets for windshield surveys and architectural documentation toward things like community engagement or maintenance and weatherization grants. Preservationists need to seek funding and prioritize projects and grants that further an inclusive agenda. Long-standing relationships with existing funders are a form of power, and preservationists have the ability to press for support that furthers equity goals. Overall, preservationists need to seek out new funders, redirect existing funding where possible, and use their well-established networks to fight any funding biases that undermine the preservation of underrepresented communities and heritages.
Funding decisions, designation approvals, and community development are political. Underrepresented communities often have a long—and rarely positive—history with urban planning and urban development. Similarly, preservation is often viewed as elitist, and it has long been associated with gentrification. These complex dynamics demand that preservationists directly confront the biases, negative impacts, and discriminatory practices of the past. The politics of preservation are highly local and thus require tailored approaches that respond to local conditions and histories. National leadership, such as that of the National Trust for Historic Preservation’s African American Cultural Heritage Action Fund, sets a precedent and expectations for the field as a whole. But the real work of breaking down barriers, recognizing value in marginalized communities, and changing the reality (and therefore the perceptions) of what preservation means must occur on the ground in cities, neighborhoods, and communities. The formal structures of city government, such as the composition of city councils, also demand that preservationists be willing, at times, to act as political entities, engaging in coalition-building and broader discussions about the future of neighborhoods and cities.
Further, those in the field must confront the tendency to valorize origin stories and nostalgic views of the past, both of which have immense power to erase decades (if not more) of marginalized communities’ histories. For instance, in Cleveland, as in many other cities, African Americans were not the “original” settlers of most neighborhoods that are now predominantly African American. When preservationists fail to recognize the layers of urban history, they negate the important contributions of minority residents who faced discriminatory housing practices and severe residential segregation for much of the twentieth century.
Nostalgic views of twentieth-century urban history tend to uplift stories of European immigrants while devaluing those of African Americans. For instance, in 2009 Cleveland’s small Hungarian Museum organized an exhibit titled Buckeye Road: A Hungarian Neighborhood in Cleveland. The promotional materials described it as “a nostalgic look at the Hungarian community from the early 1900’s, through its most vibrant times, to its decline in the 1970’s.”32 Buckeye has been a predominantly African American neighborhood for around fifty years, a significant amount of time in its own right and currently just two decades shy of the Hungarian tenure in the neighborhood. By all reasonable forecasts, Buckeye will be an African American neighborhood for much longer than it was Hungarian. Yet powerful, nostalgic narratives negate the lived experiences of African Americans and continue to suggest that African Americans are occupying someone else’s space. Any complicity on the part of preservationists in these narratives stands in direct opposition to equity and inclusivity. When it comes to urban neighborhoods, there is a reasonable argument that all residents, over time, have contributed to an area’s heritage and that even white flight, racial turnover, and systematic disinvestment are themselves historically significant. Preservationists are often ill-equipped to navigate this type of everyday history, which is not always pretty. Without direct efforts to value the complexity of stories and meaning, preservationists will also be implicated in the othering and dismissal of marginalized people.
Preservationists must directly address structural barriers to inclusivity inherent in the field and work, in every way possible, to break through them. Architecture and integrity are often the gateways to preservation protections and benefits, but, in marginalized communities, they are an excuse for exclusion. New thinking, strategies, and tools do not require discarding the array of well-established preservation policies and programs. Rather, an inclusive practice demands an expanded toolkit. Removing institutionalized barriers to inclusiveness at the federal level would serve as a model for action by local communities. For instance, the National Park Service could write standards for vernacular residential landscapes where overall community history is more significant than individual buildings’ material details; new guidelines could redefine “integrity” to deemphasize (or ignore) materiality when it is not important.
Truly inclusive preservation is possible only in a profession that engages in the difficult and ongoing work of overcoming explicit and implicit biases. Diversifying the profession will require strategies ranging from community heritage projects involving schoolchildren to targeted academic recruitment and the creation of dedicated scholarships and funding to attract minority students. In the short term, consciously crafting diverse preservation commissions and boards can also be effective. To encourage this goal, the National Park Service and/or the National Trust could establish diversity mandates as a precursor for funding eligibility (e.g., for nonprofit boards or local preservation commissions). The faces of those in power matter, and it is well past time for change.
Preservation holds the potential to uplift underrepresented people, communities, and heritages through a practice that prioritizes equity, social justice, and inclusiveness, or what Jennifer Minner calls an “equity preservation agenda.”33 Crafting an inclusive preservation requires understanding and changing the use and distribution of power within the field. It means acknowledging that preservationists are not powerless idealists and that through their work, they have the power to undermine progress toward a more just society—or, preferably, to uplift and shine a light on the full story of our communities, cities, and nation.
In New York City, the Landmarks Preservation Commission has helped to protect and preserve more than a hundred neighborhoods across all five boroughs since its inception in 1965. However, the neighborhoods designated as historic districts in New York City are home to residents who are more likely to be white and to have higher incomes and higher levels of education than neighborhoods elsewhere in the city. In 2010 the average census tract in a historic district in New York City was 80 percent white and 9.5 percent black, while the average census tract not in a historic district was only 43 percent white and almost 30 percent black. Over 90 percent of residents living in historic districts held a college degree, compared to only 33 percent outside historic districts.1 Previous research suggests that the designation of historic districts widens some of these gaps by accelerating the process of demographic change.2
— SOCIAL INCLUSIVITY AND HISTORIC PRESERVATION
Historic preservation aims to provide a tangible link to our past. The efforts of preservation advocates and policy-makers in New York City have ensured that historic neighborhoods remain part of the city landscape for generations to come. Preserving historic assets helps to deepen neighborhood identity, to attract visitors to the city, and to ensure a rich, diverse building stock across many New York City neighborhoods. Yet critics contend that historic preservation efforts too often favor certain historical narratives and assets over others. At the global level, researchers charge that non-Western sites are underrepresented on the UNESCO World Heritage List.3 Even at the local level, diverse histories are not always valued in the preservation process, especially as advocates and public officials focus on historic buildings or their architectural features—giving evidence to concerns about the politics and limits of authenticity in historic preservation.4
Critics charge that the preservation movement largely serves high-income and white communities who use the designation process against changes that could undermine their housing investments.5 College-educated, high-income residents may possess better knowledge of the planning process and greater access to the levers of city governance. With these resources, they are able to advocate for historic preservation since they recognize the financial or social benefits of doing so. If they are more politically active than previous residents, or have stronger social connections, they may also be more successful in securing a historic district designation.6
In response to calls for greater inclusivity and diversity in the preservation process, several national organizations, including the National Trust for Historic Preservation, have launched efforts to diversify the sites that are designated and preserved.7 One recent example in New York City is the designation of the Stonewall Inn, the site of the 1969 riots credited with launching the modern-day gay rights movement. The site was designated as the first national historic landmark to commemorate the LGBTQ movement and was also declared a New York City historic landmark by the Landmarks Preservation Commission.8 The designation of the Stonewall Inn explicitly commemorates an important historical and cultural moment in the United States, rather than a piece of architecture worthy of preservation.
Still, despite growing awareness of the need for inclusivity, limited attention has been paid to the types of neighborhoods that are actually designated or the impact of the designation process on neighborhoods and the people living in them. When high-income neighborhoods are designated as historic districts, the designation may help to preserve not only the physical fabric of the neighborhood but also the neighborhood’s social and economic composition. By limiting the construction of new buildings or halting efforts to increase density, historic preservation rules can serve as exclusionary supply restrictions. These constraints on neighborhood development often lead to higher housing prices and rents, both citywide and, in many circumstances, within individual districts. They do so by reducing uncertainty about future development and reassuring home buyers that a neighborhood’s historic character will be preserved.9 The requirements for more expensive building materials in historic districts may also translate into higher prices and rents, further limiting the ability of low- and moderate-income households to move in.
While historic designation may help to sustain prices and freeze the demographic composition in initially high-income neighborhoods, observers also worry that it may help to fuel gentrification in lower-income neighborhoods.10 If the process of historic designation in a low-income neighborhood puts a neighborhood “on the map” and attracts high-income residents, then these policies may accelerate residential turnover, contribute to the rising costs of housing in the area, and displace low-income residents.11 Furthermore, supply restrictions may make it more difficult to build affordable housing in neighborhoods where it would otherwise have been built.
Preservation in low-income communities raises fundamental concerns about fairness, affordability, and inclusion. While the preservation community should continue to protect historic assets, this work must be done with a sensitivity to the way historic preservation can affect neighborhoods and shape the composition of residents in those communities. Acknowledging the changes that result from historic preservation does not mean that such designation should be halted in neighborhoods with valuable historic assets; instead, it demands that advocates and policy leaders couple their preservation goals with efforts to preserve affordable housing and promote economic inclusivity.
— HISTORIC PRESERVATION IN NEW YORK CITY
Established in 1965, the New York City Landmarks Preservation Commission designates historic neighborhoods, properties, and scenic landmarks for protection under the Charter and the Administrative Code of the City of New York.12 In this capacity, the commission is empowered to preserve historic districts that contain buildings with historic or aesthetic appeal and those that represent unique architectural styles in the city. While designated historic districts may include noncontributing properties, the overwhelming majority of properties included in a historic district are supposed to contribute to the architectural, cultural, or historic character of a designated neighborhood.
Since the establishment of Brooklyn Heights as the city’s first historic district in 1965, the Landmarks Preservation Commission has designated over 100 districts across the five boroughs of New York City. By the end of 2014, with the designation of the Chester Court Historic District, the commission had created 114 unique historic districts.13 Although these designations have occurred in communities throughout the city, they are concentrated in only a handful of areas. In Manhattan, historic districts are located disproportionately on the Upper East Side, the Upper West Side, and portions of the borough south of 14th Street. FIG. 1 In Brooklyn, historic districts are concentrated largely in the downtown area and in the neighborhoods surrounding Prospect Park. While this concentration maps onto neighborhoods with older, historic buildings, it also suggests that the city’s preservation efforts have not been evenly spread across socioeconomically diverse areas.
— DATA AND METHODS OF ANALYSIS
For this analysis, we utilize data from the US Census Bureau, the New York City Department of City Planning, and the New York City Landmarks Preservation Commission. We rely on census tracts to identify neighborhoods and use data from the decennial census (years 1970 to 2000) and the American Community Survey (five-year estimates of 2010–2014) to describe the socioeconomic status, racial composition, and housing characteristics of New York City’s census tracts. Census tracts are statistical neighborhoods that typically contain about four thousand people.
Drawing on data from the decennial census, we compared the 1970 racial and sociodemographic characteristics of neighborhoods that would become historic districts between 1970 and 2014 with the characteristics of neighborhoods that would not become historic districts during that period. In other words, we ask whether, in 1970, neighborhoods that would go on to receive a historic district designation were already more advantaged or home to a higher share of whites than other neighborhoods in the city that would not receive a designation. We conducted a simple comparison of means and then also used regression analysis, which allowed us to account for differences in the median age of the housing stock and the share of public housing units in the tract. We restricted our sample to census tracts with more than one hundred residents in all census years between 1970 and 2010.
We also used regression analysis to examine how neighborhoods change following historic designation. We considered the following neighborhood characteristics: total population, percentage of black residents, percentage of white residents, percentage of Hispanic residents, percentage of residents below the poverty line, percentage of adults with a college degree, mean household income, and percentage of housing units that are owner-occupied. The regression approach allowed us to contrast changes in tracts that became part of a historic district with changes in tracts that were part of the same community district but outside historic district boundaries. Here, we restricted our sample to census tracts that are located within the city’s thirty-two community districts that have at least one tax lot in a historic district by 2014. This left us with 1,003 census tracts in thirty-two community districts.14 Each of these tracts was observed five times (1970, 1980, 1990, 2000, and 2010), producing a balanced panel with 5,015 tract-year observations. Since we are particularly interested in understanding whether the impact differs for low-income neighborhoods, we examined whether postdesignation changes differ in the 616 neighborhoods that, in 1970, had a household median income below the citywide household median income.
In both sets of analyses, we classified census tracts in four categories, based on the share of tax lots (or parcels) that were inside a historic district: those without any lots in a historic district, those with up to 25 percent of lots in a historic district, those with between 25 and 75 percent of lots in a historic district, and those with more than 75 percent of lots in a historic district. This distinction allowed us to explore both heterogeneity in 1970 demographic differences and the impacts of historic designation based on the land area of the tract that overlaps with a historic district.
Our first question was whether neighborhoods designated between 1970 and 2014 differed in their predesignation sociodemographic characteristics from neighborhoods that did not become part of historic districts during that period. Specifically, did neighborhoods that became historic districts between 1970 and 2014 have a more advantaged population than other neighborhoods in 1970? Was the population in these neighborhoods in 1970 whiter than in those neighborhoods that did not become historic districts? Did they have a lower poverty rate or a higher homeownership rate? We compared the 1970 neighborhood characteristics between two types of neighborhoods: those that, over the next four decades, would see most of their lots (that is, more than 75 percent) included in historic districts and those that would not have any lots designated as part of a historic district. FIG. 2
Notably, neighborhoods that would go on to be designated historic districts had a significantly higher share of residents with college degrees and a far higher median income. Designated neighborhoods also had a slightly lower poverty rate in 1970. About 14 percent of households in neighborhoods that would go on to earn a designation lived below the poverty line, compared to almost 16 percent in nondesignated neighborhoods. As for racial composition, neighborhoods that became historic districts by 2014 had a larger proportion of white residents and a lower proportion of African American residents than other neighborhoods. About 79 percent of residents in designated neighborhoods were white in 1970, compared to 71 percent of residents in nondesignated neighborhoods. Approximately 19 percent of residents in designated neighborhoods and 27 percent of residents in nondesignated neighborhoods were African American. Perhaps surprisingly, these neighborhoods also had a lower homeownership rate compared to nondesignated neighborhoods.15
Of course, this simple comparison may be somewhat misleading because not all census tracts are equally likely to be designated as part of historic districts. Historic designation depends on the physical and historical features of neighborhoods, including the age or structural characteristics of their housing stock. Although we recognize that ideas about the historic value of neighborhoods may be culturally biased, we next explored whether the sociodemographic characteristics of neighborhoods that were later designated differed from neighborhoods with similar housing stocks that were not designated. We tested whether these differences held up after controlling for the age distribution of the housing stock and the broader neighborhood. FIG. 3 Specifically, we regressed 1970 demographic characteristics on three dummy variables to capture the share of the housing stock in a census tract that is located in a historic district as of 2014.16 To account for differences between neighborhoods in the composition of their buildings, we restricted our sample to census tracts in community districts with at least one parcel in a historic district and calculated regression-adjusted means. Because the median age of housing stock in a tract is only a rough proxy for a neighborhood’s era of development and architectural style, we also included the community district of the census tract as a proxy for the neighborhood’s historic character, although these coefficients are not shown in figure 3.
After controlling for community district and the age distribution of the housing stock, we see that, as of 1970, neighborhoods that would become part of historic districts had more college graduates and higher median incomes, though they had lower homeownership rates compared to other census tracts in the same community district with similarly aged housing stocks. As for racial composition, tracts that would become historic districts had a smaller Hispanic population share and a lower poverty rate compared to other nearby neighborhoods with similarly aged housing stocks. In short, the neighborhoods that would be designated as historic districts over the next four decades typically housed more advantaged residents than other neighborhoods with housing stocks from a similar era.
Next we turned our attention to what happened to the demographic composition of neighborhoods after they were designated as a historic district. FIG. 4 We see strong and consistent evidence of change in the socioeconomic status of neighborhoods after some or all of their parcels are designated as part of a historic district. On average, census tracts that include newly designated historic districts saw reductions in the poverty rate and gains in mean income after designation. They also experienced increases in the share of adults with college degrees and in homeownership rates. That said, we see little evidence of racial change after designation, although we do find weak evidence of an increase in the share of white residents relative to nearby tracts outside the historic district. Overall, the population living in census tracts with historic districts became more economically advantaged over time.
Across the board, we see no evidence that these changes were more pronounced in initially low-income tracts. In fact, for some of the characteristics in our analysis—namely, the percentage of college graduates and, to a lesser degree, the median income and the homeownership rate—the postdesignation changes were more muted. Thus, although these findings confirm that designated neighborhoods grew more advantaged following the designation of a historic district, they allay concerns that the impacts were more pronounced in neighborhoods that were initially low-income.
Together, these findings begin to chart a path forward that considers issues of equity, diversity, and inclusion. Going forward, planners and preservationists should focus on ensuring that the preservation process captures diverse neighborhood histories. Many New York City neighborhoods are home to rich histories corresponding with different eras, or the changing populations that lived there, and an inclusive preservation process could ensure that these histories are better commemorated and conveyed. Few studies consider how residents, advocates, and preservationists make decisions about where or when to pursue historic designations. Although the historic character of a neighborhood drives designation decisions, characteristics of the local population can also be influential. Gentrification, for example, may expedite the process if newcomers advocate more forcefully for historic preservation. In New York City, we know that many neighborhoods—including many neighborhoods that eventually received designation status—appear on the docket of the Landmarks Preservation Commission and in the sights of preservation advocates years (or decades) before they formally receive designation. Future research should more fully examine how and when the designation process unfolds. Concerns about the timing of historic designation are important for understanding issues of equity and inclusivity, but they have so far received little attention.
Additionally, the gain in socioeconomic status that occurs in historic neighborhoods following designation raises new questions about the effects of preservation. While our findings should ease some concerns about disproportionate impact on low-income communities, they also indicate that neighborhoods across the board tend to see gains in socioeconomic status after designation. Further, we have not fully addressed questions about who benefits from the observed changes in historic neighborhoods. Even within neighborhoods, preservation may differentially affect subgroups of residents. For example, since historic preservation appears to accelerate changes that may benefit local homeowners, including rising property values and guarantees against future development, these homeowners may be the primary beneficiaries of the economic impacts of preservation. As property values increase in historic neighborhoods, low-income renters may be effectively shut out of communities by rising rents. Historic preservation policies must be considered alongside other policies aimed at protecting existing residents and ensuring the diversity of New York City’s neighborhoods in the long run.
In light of the growing inequality in American cities, our analysis of New York City points to the importance of recognizing the unintended consequences of land-use policies like historic preservation. In our previous research on gentrification and historic preservation, we called for planners and policy-makers to explicitly take stock of the ways that historic preservation limits the production of affordable housing.17 Since preservation limits the opportunity for new development or increased square footage in designated neighborhoods, we argued that the Landmarks Preservation Commission should offset those changes by upzoning neighboring areas to accommodate additional housing units on noncontributing parcels or in nearby communities. A broader call for inclusivity should reach beyond the production of affordable housing to consider other community-level changes that result from historic preservation, such as changes in the types of businesses and commercial establishments that serve neighborhoods before and after designation.
While our analysis describes important issues related to social inclusivity, it also raises important issues that we cannot answer here. First, while advantaged neighborhoods are more likely to undergo designation, this provides only a partial answer to understanding which neighborhoods are designated, why those communities receive historic status, and when that process happens. As we noted above, the historic designation process in New York City often takes multiple years, and neighborhoods are often discussed—either publicly or in preservation circles—for many years prior. Evaluating the timing of this process could help to explain the trajectories of different neighborhoods and the ways that historic and cultural amenities are evaluated. Additionally, analyses of the designation process should account for the different expectations of residents and preservation advocates (and detractors) in pushing for historic status. As they approach the designation process, neighborhood residents may have different ideas about the importance of historic designation or the reasons to push for this distinction. Finally, while we evaluate changes in the racial composition and socioeconomic status of neighborhoods, further research should investigate other changes that result from preservation. From this analysis, we may expect that changes in the composition of neighborhood residents result in changes in commercial establishments, the availability of affordable housing, or the culture of the neighborhood. These community changes may be more pronounced in disadvantaged neighborhoods, even when historic designation results in similar demographic changes.
— REALIGNING THE CONVERSATION
In New York City, efforts to preserve historic buildings and neighborhoods have successfully ensured that the rich cultural and architectural heritage of the city is protected for generations to come. Although more than one hundred neighborhoods are now regulated through the Landmarks Preservation Commission, we have done little to align the conversation about historic preservation with growing concerns about inequality and social inclusion in the city. By asking which neighborhoods are designated as historic and how that designation affects those neighborhoods (especially low-income neighborhoods), we hope to broaden the agenda of the preservation community. In order to preserve the diverse history of places like New York City and to ensure that the rich community landscapes reflecting this diverse history are preserved, historic preservation policies should pay explicit attention to whose neighborhoods are designated and who bears the benefits and burdens of those designations.
As the program manager of the National Park Service (NPS) Office of Relevancy, Diversity, and Inclusion, you are deeply engaged in questions of cultural heritage and social inclusion. What led you to this work?
When I think about how I arrived here—how inclusion, justice, and equity became guiding concepts for what I do—I’d have to start with my own personal experiences growing up. My parents were two of the very, very early immigrants from India to the United States. My father came in the early 1960s, so until college, I was the only person from India at school, at the playground, in Girl Scouts, in the grocery store, anywhere. In everything I did, I was the only person with Indian heritage, and oftentimes there might have been only one or two other people of color. Growing up in the United States, isolation was just a part of who I was. It didn’t really occur to me as a child that there was any other way to be as an American, other than when we would go to community events and I would be with other Indians. I have a very strong memory of what that felt like—the comfort of being around people who understood me on a deeper level—even if I didn’t have the words for what that meant. My parents also lived in the Middle East for a number of years, and there I had a different experience of being the “other,” but this time being very, very aware of economic and social hierarchies, and where people from India fell in that order. There was a very obvious sense of racism and mistreatment. So I always held onto these two experiences, one of racial isolation as a child, and one of seeing blatant discrimination that was really harmful, and having a visceral sense of that—not just watching, but really owning that in my heart.
I have a degree in anthropology, and I studied international relations. I have always, throughout my career, worked in arenas where I had the ability to address issues of inclusion, whether it was at Amnesty International as a youth organizer or with the United Way of Metropolitan Atlanta, where I was part of a groundbreaking team that was looking to reshape the way United Way worked with the nonprofit organizations it served. I was part of a movement away from being strictly a funder to really being a community-building institution. We were looking more broadly at our influence as a relationship broker—with state government, with county government—to see what we could do on the ground through organizing and bringing people to the table, really expanding the notion of what an institution is within a community.
Working in museums, where I was a grant writer and employed in different positions, enabled me to understand the power of cultural institutions to shape identity. My master’s thesis, where I looked at interracial relationships between Indo-Trinidadian women and Afro-Trinidadian men, allowed me to see how what seems like a personal relationship actually has an enormous impact on identity, on politics, and on the way that groups interact with each other—how just that very personal relationship can really disrupt power dynamics.
All of that brought me here to the National Park Service, where I spent five years as the grants coordinator for the national Native American Graves Protection and Repatriation Program. In that time, I was able to draw on all the work I had done around community grant making, as well as my interest in human rights, for one position where all of that was at play. It really solidified my understanding of heritage, especially of heritage being connected to identity, and being connected to one’s sense of dignity and inclusion within a larger society.
Through a dedicated Office of Relevancy, Diversity, and Inclusion, how is the NPS seeking to change its internal institutional dynamics as well as its relationship to the public?
My NPS position, program manager for relevancy, diversity, and inclusion, is relatively new, and it is certainly very unusual in the Department of the Interior. The former director of the National Park Service, Jon Jarvis, shepherded the NPS through its centennial in 2016. He was really trying to break open this notion that parks are isolated, boundary-defined places where people are visitors, to help people really see parks as embedded in the American landscape, and to help us at the NPS see that our responsibility was to all citizens, whether they came to the parks or not. Former NPS deputy director Mickey Fearn asserted that if we were truly going to embrace relevancy, diversity, and inclusion as guiding principles and as a way of working, we needed to embed them into the infrastructure of the National Park Service, which meant that these ideas needed to have a home and a full-time employee on a team that had resources and access.
As a direct report to the associate director for what is now called Workforce and Inclusion, the office has always had a measure of independence. Not being tied to formal human resource or EEO structures allows for greater flexibility. When it’s a leadership issue, I can engage at that level. When it’s a research and data analysis issue, I can look at it from that angle. When it’s a training issue, I can look at it from that angle. I’m not siloed into one particular perspective, and that’s been really, really helpful because it’s allowed me to be nimble and evolve with the culture.
In many respects, you are not only transcending bureaucratic silos, you are transcending different concepts of community—the people who work for the NPS, the people who visit national parks, the people who live around parks, and even, as you said, everybody who is living in the country. Within the broad mission of the NPS, how is this mandate communicated, and how is it interpreted by staff?
To be totally honest, it depends on whom you talk to. I’m seeing a lot of forward movement, particularly as times change and we see new faces. There are those who are really in alignment with this office, who see the benefits of it and want to work with us. They are the innovators in the NPS. They are putting these concepts into practice and challenging themselves to think about how they’re interacting in the community—who’s not there, who is. How are you engaging with everyone, and how are you having those conversations internally?
But the NPS operates over four hundred sites, each with its own management structure. We’re highly decentralized, and so it really depends on having the leadership to support that work, because it takes a fundamental shift in time, energy, and resources to work that way. Without leadership on board, it’s a struggle. We also have a very tenured workforce. Many staff members have spent their entire career with the NPS, and the cultural norms, systems, and processes in place support a particular way of working, so opening up to new ways of doing things can sometimes be a challenge.
Where I find myself, as an office, working most is in challenging the workforce of the NPS to consider how we ensure the integrity of our mission, our values, and what we want to do. Several times, in the six years now that I’ve been in this position, that has come to a head. People have said, “We can’t tell this story with any integrity if we don’t look internally.” For example, another significant area of concern is our workforce demographics. Our workforce is over 80 percent white. How does that impact our integrity as an agency to tell the story of civil rights? Those are the kinds of questions and conversations that can happen because of this office. It creates the space for the organization to have critically important, if uncomfortable, conversations.
A related dialogue came to a head with the sexual harassment case at the Grand Canyon in 2016. In 2017 the National Park Service conducted its first survey to assess employee attitudes, behaviors, and perceptions of harassment within the work environment. The results showed that nearly 40 percent of employees had experienced some form of harassment or assault behaviors in the twelve months preceding the survey. The survey speaks to the effort needed if we are to align our values and norms with our mission. How do you maintain integrity with an external audience when integrity within the institution is compromised? What is it about the way we are set up that allows for a culture where harassment can not only exist but, in some cases, even thrive? What is underlying this system?
While people may not see harassment as an issue of diversity and inclusion, I see it as extreme exclusion. The secretary of the interior is committed to creating an ethical work culture, one that is transparent and accountable, where harassment is not tolerated. He has reiterated the importance of that to our field employees in particular. The conversation over time has changed and shifted, but if you look underneath that, there’s been a steady march toward the root cause of these issues, which is the fundamental operational structure of the National Park Service.
There is a powerful sense of accountability in this approach: in order to promote diversity and inclusion, the NPS must understand the relationship of its internal system to its ability to externalize these shared values. As you continue these efforts internally, how do you see it working externally, toward empowering other communities and serving multiple publics and diverse narratives?
The National Park Service is doing amazing and important community work throughout the country and territories. We are continually looking for ways to lift up and highlight this work. What I’m looking for is the tipping point where it goes from these localized, disparate opportunities to a fundamental operational norm where the policies, the structures, the programs, the way we hire people, and the way we engage with communities creates permanent, meaningful, lasting change. It’s about asking the question in a different way. For example, when we hire people into a park, particularly at the superintendent level, are we consistently considering what it would look like to have a meaningful, sustained, engaged connection to the community the park is in? Are we hiring somebody who has knowledge of that community or who has a commitment to that community that will be sustained? And when we hand off the park from one superintendent to the next, is that commitment being preserved? Have we really looked at what our values are and integrated them into our hiring practices?
It’s not just about discrete projects; it’s about an actual ongoing relationship that grows and evolves. I think we still don’t have the infrastructure in place to ensure that that’s happening, to expand all of these examples from discrete projects into a way of working that redesigns our relationships to communities.
Much of this work toward community-oriented impact is understandably focused on the sites that the National Park Service operates. In the realm of preservation, the NPS plays a significant role in communities far beyond the national parks themselves, as it is the agency that largely oversees the federal preservation system. Can you speak to some of the challenges and opportunities of promoting inclusion in preservation policy beyond the sites for which the NPS is directly responsible?
We are starting to think about barriers to engaging communities of color that exist in legislation and in the policy process. One way we are working to expand the way we think about preservation is through theme studies, such as the American Latino Heritage Initiative and the LGBTQ Heritage Initiative. That’s been a very deliberate attempt to expand the story, create an avenue for a more diverse group of people to engage in the process, and start to really diversify the spaces that tell the full breadth of the American story.
I believe the NPS has an opportunity, at the national level, to fundamentally change the concept of what it means to preserve and to shift the language of the dialogue around preservation. We have success stories, stories of working with community partners to figure out: “How do we bring the language of preservation to you so that you know that you can even join these processes?”
It means looking systematically at the barriers in the laws, in the process. Who’s on the panels? What kinds of projects are coming to life? What are the barriers to those projects’ success? How do you start having conversations that open up space for other kinds of projects to move forward? How do you provide technical assistance in ways that even the playing field?
The inclusion of marginalized communities may be in the spirit of legislation, of laws, of acts. But that does not mean it is reflected in the written documents or in the processes those documents produce. It’s a practice of privilege to pick and choose when to act in the spirit of something and when to limit actions to a specific interpretation of the written word. One of the biggest challenges, from my perspective, is that telling the more accurate story—the one that’s more inclusive, the one that is potentially less happy—takes a great deal of skill. It takes a willingness to look beyond the obvious, it takes resilience, and it takes the ability to weather pushback when the public is challenged to rethink its assumptions, and that’s a very real challenge in the National Park Service.
The National Park Service is a highly mission-driven organization. And so, for us, it’s really about challenging people to think about what the mission of the NPS is and how the work that we do must change if we’re truly going to preserve and protect for future generations. Who are those future generations, and what is the work that needs to be done?
Looking at this from the perspective of underrepresented publics rather than that of the NPS, what do you see as key issues that will help these communities enhance their agency in preserving their heritage and engage in the federal preservation system? And what can preservationists do to support such efforts?
It’s about that visionary mindset, not just on the part of the preservation community but within underrepresented communities as well. The community has to understand the connection between preservation and the benefit it has to the community. As much as preservation is about place, it’s actually a very intangible concept, particularly if it’s competing against more commonly understood benefits such as good schools, health care, or economic viability. Preservation and identity should go hand in hand, the firmer you are in your identity—frankly, that’s the foundation to the economics, to the education, to everything else. At least that’s what I have found personally. The more I know who I am, where I come from, who my people are, the more engaged I am in the rest of the world, and the more open I am to diversity and to new ideas and new ways of thinking.
It’s about helping communities see the “why” behind preservation. I think if the preservation field is willing to engage in that question and accept an equal relationship with the local community, it could be a powerful partner. If the local community is not engaged, it may be because they don’t even know that preservation is a possibility. In addition, the preservation field may not be a very compelling community to be part of, especially for younger people. As long as the field is dominated by a way of thinking that outsiders find to be stifling, people will not engage. If the preservation community itself is, frankly, not fun, is not interesting, is not curious, is not willing to try something different, is not willing to let go of stuff that actually only they care about, it doesn’t matter what they do. They’re not going to create the change they want. And honestly, with technology and with everything else that’s advancing at this incredible pace, I think these marginalized communities are going to get what they need in different ways. And then the preservation field risks obsolescence.
Because of my work at the NPS, I’m knee-deep in thinking about systems and operations. Diversity and inclusion are really about dismantling the specific ways in which we have operated that are detrimental to everybody. And I think that that’s where the conversation gets exciting, because then it’s not about terms we ascribe to one another—the white man or the straight person or the person who grew up with affluence as opposed to the “other.” What it becomes about is our capacity to create the change needed to break down silos, to create deliberate connections, and to solve problems that may have felt entrenched but really just needed a new perspective and a willingness to change.
Historic contexts, and the heritage surveys they inform, are the foundation of municipal preservation programs. But too often these tools, even today, reflect a limited set of community interests, are overly tied to aesthetics, and focus on buildings and monumental architecture. However, preservation practice is slowly shifting to be more inclusive of ethnic, social, and cultural values and to encompass heritage resources that reflect these values. In Los Angeles, SurveyLA fueled efforts to engage all Angelenos in the city’s heritage preservation program.1 This citywide heritage survey included a wide range of historic themes to reflect multiple narratives and directly involve the community in telling these stories. Now the survey framework and results are not only accelerating the designation of resources that represent the city’s diversity, but also support broader preservation planning goals and objectives to celebrate and protect these historic community resources.
— VOICING DIVERSITY THROUGH HISTORIC CONTEXTS
Historic contexts are narrative, technical documents that guide the survey and evaluation of heritage resources. They are not intended to be definitive histories; rather, they are place-based and relate to heritage resource types—buildings, structures, objects, sites, landscapes, and districts that represent important themes in the history and development of a geographic area. Although the relationship between surveys and historic contexts is explained in the 1977 National Park Service (NPS) publication Guidelines for Local Surveys: A Basis for Preservation Planning, the use of historic contexts has been recently reinvigorated, rediscovered, and (in some places) newly discovered as a means to incorporate places associated with ethnic and cultural histories into survey work and preservation planning.2
The Multiple Property Documentation (MPD) approach established by the NPS provides a framework for developing contexts relating to ethnic and cultural histories and is in use by both public and private heritage agencies and organizations throughout the United States. This approach uses one or more historic contexts to streamline the nomination of related properties to the National Register of Historic Places. Using the MPD approach, each context establishes significant themes and topics relating to ethnic and cultural histories, identifies important property types, and provides specific guidance or eligibility standards to guide evaluation and designation. Often, resources significant for their association with social, cultural, or ethnic history are unremarkable for their physical appearance. The heritage value of these resources is based less on physical attributes and more on the strength of the association with a particular theme.
— ETHNIC AND CULTURAL DIVERSITY IN LOS ANGELES’S HISTORIC CONTEXTS
Development of Los Angeles’s historic context began in 2007 with the inception of SurveyLA and the adoption of the MPD approach.3 The historic context covers the area within the geographic boundaries of the incorporated City of Los Angeles and the period from 1780 to 1980.4 During the planning of the survey, the contexts and related themes were defined in broad terms, with the intent to refine, revise, and elaborate as the field surveys progressed. One of the most challenging aspects of this early phase was creating a structure for a context that integrated ethnic and cultural histories citywide. Los Angeles is a large, complex, and diverse city with more than 140 nationalities now represented in the population. While it is common practice in the preservation field to write stand-alone narratives for ethnic and cultural themes, this approach fails to take intersectionality into account and does little to convey the complexity of immigration, settlement, and migration patterns in Los Angeles. Different groups have settled and moved throughout the city over time, leaving unique and layered imprints on the built environment. Because of these overlapping histories, SurveyLA’s ethnic and cultural themes are published separately yet are purposefully integrated within the larger framework of the city’s historic context. FIG. 1
While ethnic and cultural contexts are meant to be inclusive of diverse and underrepresented communities, contexts themselves can be exclusionary when not all groups are recognized. Several considerations were taken into account to set priorities for completing ethnic and cultural contexts for Los Angeles. First, the period covered by the historic context ends in 1980. This means that populations only more recently present in Los Angeles have not been as well represented in SurveyLA and that the resources identified for other, longer-established groups generally date from before 1980. However, because the overall framework is designed to be expandable, more contexts will be added over time to take into account these new populations, recent histories, and additional themes and property types not yet known.6
A second consideration in prioritizing contexts was limited funding. Ethnic and cultural contexts were wholly funded by grants from the California Office of Historic Preservation and the NPS.7 Grant cycles ranged from one to two years with a limited amount of funds available during each cycle. In addition, the grants required a substantial match; with no cash match available, this meant in-kind city staff time.8 As a result, the city generally took on only a single context per year, which restricted the number that could be completed as part of the larger SurveyLA project.9 A final consideration in prioritizing contexts was the expected number of eligible resources under local, state, and national designation programs.
Research for developing the city’s ethnic and cultural contexts brings unique challenges. Most notably, the body of existing scholarship differs greatly among the contexts. The historical experiences of Thai Americans in Los Angeles, for example, remain largely untold, primarily due to the community’s arrival in the 1950s. Also, many sources are available only in the native language. Some topics, such as Korean Americans in the performing, visual, and literary arts, have not yet been well documented in English. While in a few cases interpreter services were used, the contexts relied primarily on English-language sources. Research for the women’s rights context brought to light a number of issues that underscore the difficulties in equitably representing all populations within a single topic.10 As explained in the introduction to the Women’s Rights in Los Angeles context:
Presenting a history of women’s rights in Los Angeles has several challenges. First, the documentation of women’s history has historically been underreported in traditional media. Second, the activities of women of color were documented and reported even less by traditional media, and archival materials from the clubs and organizations for women of color have largely been lost to history. Third, the contributions of Los Angeles women to the suffrage movement have often been overlooked by scholars focused on the east coast or northern California and its cache of archival materials.
Lastly, women’s history has been written primarily by white women, without acknowledgment that the forms of oppression experienced by white middle- and upper-class heterosexual women were different from those experienced by women of other ethnicities, cultural backgrounds, and sexual orientations. This results in an incomplete telling that fails to take intersectionality into account. Documented examples of the participation of women of color are included here, but likely represent a small sample of their actual contributions. As a result, these examples should be viewed less as a comprehensive telling of the story and more as inspiration for additional scholarship in the future.11
Telling the stories of ethnic and cultural places requires broad-based outreach programs that engage all segments of the population to identify important places, as well as to write and review narrative contexts. For each of Los Angeles’s ethnic and cultural contexts, outreach strategies included the identification of key individuals, institutions, and organizations. Early involvement by these experts helped guide themes, establish relevant periods of significance, and identify geographic areas where resources may be present. This involvement focused research and reconnaissance efforts and ultimately informed the field surveys.
Over time, outreach strategies evolved to include varying and flexible approaches, including the following:
• Asking for assistance from scholars and students at colleges and universities with specialized ethnic and cultural studies programs.
• Engaging community/topical experts to work with survey teams as part of the research and reconnaissance tasks.
• Organizing public meetings and workshops, facilitated by city staff and context consultants, to explain the overall purpose and objectives and to outline a plan for public participation.
• Creating historic context advisory committees composed of stake-holders, community leaders, scholars, neighborhood and topical experts, and others to promote community interest, identify important themes and relevant cultural resources, and review and provide input on context drafts and other deliverables.
• Partnering with communities and heritage organizations to promote widespread and long-term use of the historic contexts.
— ASIAN AMERICANS IN LOS ANGELES: A CASE STUDY IN COMMUNITY PARTNERSHIPS
The Office of Historic Resources (OHR) received a National Park Service Underrepresented Communities Grant to produce the historic contexts for Los Angeles’s Asian American communities, specifically the Chinese, Japanese, Korean, Filipino, and Thai American communities. Geographically, the contexts cover the history and development of five Los Angeles neighborhoods that have been designated as Preserve America Communities: Little Tokyo, Thai Town, Historic Filipinotown, Koreatown, and Chinatown—but the contexts also include other areas in the city where these groups have settled and lived.
The contexts were completed in partnership with Asian American community leaders, scholars, and activists, with the help of a diverse project advisory committee and a series of public meetings and workshops. The project resulted in five discrete contexts that are part of the city’s historic context, as well as a National Register of Historic Places Multiple Property Documentation Form titled “Asian Americans in Los Angeles, 1850–1980” and an associated individual National Register nomination for the Filipino Christian Church. FIG. 3
The collaboration of the city, project advisory committee, and community members throughout the two-year grant period resulted in the Asian Americans in Los Angeles Historic Context Symposium in October 2018. Held at the Filipino Christian Church, the event was cosponsored by the city and Asian and Pacific Island Americans in Historic Preservation. The intent of the symposium was not to celebrate the end of the grant project but rather to promote continued partnerships with the city and to encourage future community action. At the same time, the symposium offered an opportunity to follow up on the usefulness of contexts in identifying cultural resources, guide the formal designation of eligible properties, and potentially identify other means through which community heritage resources could be safeguarded.
— REDISCOVERING LOS ANGELES’S DIVERSITY
Research, reconnaissance surveys, and outreach efforts associated with context development have led to the rediscovery of significant ethnic and cultural places. Research for the Japanese American context, for example, uncovered a 1920s map of Uptown, a little-known enclave.12 This turn-of-the-twentieth-century community was located east of downtown in what is today part of Koreatown. Further research identified a number of intact resources in the area relating to the early Japanese community, notably rooming houses for day laborers and gardeners. FIGs. 4–5
Other examples include the residence and studio of Beulah Woodard (1432 East 49th Street), a key figure in the African American visual arts community from the 1930s through the mid-1950s. Woodard was known for her sculptures; her 1935 solo exhibition at the Los Angeles Museum of History, Science, and Art made her the first African American artist to be featured at this public institution.13 She helped create the Los Angeles Negro Art Association in 1937 and remained a key figure in the African American visual arts community until her death in 1955. The Morris Kight residence (1822 West 4th Street) was an important find for the city’s LGBT history. Kight was a notable figure in the gay liberation movement, and the house also served as the founding location and early headquarters of the Los Angeles chapter of the Gay Liberation Front.14 Another important discovery was the San Pedro Jewish Community Center (1903 South Cabrillo Avenue), dedicated in 1935, which traces its roots to the San Pedro Jewish Sisterhood. The sisterhood sold this property in 1955, after which it served as the Yugoslavian Women’s Club and then the Italian American Club, evidencing the layering of ethnic and cultural histories over time. FIG. 6
— CHARTING A PATH TOWARD INCLUSION: CELEBRATING DIVERSITY THROUGH DESIGNATION
Although equitable inclusion of all communities in historic preservation programs requires going beyond property designation, designation itself can be a significant step in integrating a wider range of histories and community narratives into planning initiatives. One of the logical outcomes of SurveyLA and the expansion of historical contexts has been to increase recognition and designation of properties associated with groups underrepresented in the city’s list of Historic-Cultural Monuments and in the National Register of Historic Places.15
While Los Angeles’s Cultural Heritage Ordinance, adopted in 1962, did not specify criteria for designation of city Historic-Cultural Monuments (HCM), it did provide a definition that clearly addresses social and cultural history:
Although the ordinance was adopted prior to the National Register of Historic Places program, Los Angeles’s designation criteria generally align with those of the National Register. But there are important differences. Los Angeles’s criteria do not include “integrity,” a set of standards by which a property is determined to “convey significance,” and do not have an age requirement.17 This gives the city leeway to recognize resources associated with more recent histories and those based on associative values rather than material or architectural integrity.
While the percentage of resources associated with ethnic and cultural histories is small in relation to the total number of city monuments, there are examples that demonstrate the city’s early recognition of underrepresented histories.18 Importantly, the Los Angeles ordinance states that “any interested individual may apply for the proposed designation of a Monument.” Most Historic-Cultural Monuments are, in fact, nominated by property owners or interested individuals and organizations.19 The Dunbar Hotel (HCM no. 131), designated in 1974, is evidence of these early inclusion efforts. Built in 1928, the hotel played a significant role in the social and political history of the thriving African American community along the Central Avenue corridor in the first half of the twentieth century. Commissioned by Drs. John and Vada Somerville, the property hosted the first national convention of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People, and in the 1930s, the hotel’s nightclub served as the stage for a multitude of internationally acclaimed jazz musicians.
Designation of the Kinney-Tabor House (HCM no. 926) in 2008 illustrates an important shift in the recognition of properties of ethnic and cultural importance. The original nomination in 1968 was denied because the building was not in its original location and the house had been altered. Irving Tabor worked for Abbot Kinney, who developed Venice, California. After Kinney’s death and his widow’s subsequent move to a convalescent home, the house was gifted to Tabor. In 1925 he tried to move in but was restricted by racial covenants and the objections of neighbors. Tabor therefore moved the house to Oakwood, an African American enclave in Venice. The 2008 nomination recognizes the importance of both Abbot Kinney and Irving Tabor as owners of the property and treats the house relocation as a significant event for both local history and the area’s African American community. FIG. 7
Publication of the ethnic and cultural contexts is increasing public interest in new designations. The Tom of Finland House (HCM no. 1135) was identified in the LGBT context under the theme “Queer Art” as the Los Angeles-based home and studio of gay erotic artist Touko Laaksonen, more commonly known as Tom of Finland. The artist resided at the house during the last ten years of his life, during which he gained international recognition. The property is also the headquarters of the Tom of Finland Foundation. Forsythe Memorial School for Girls and the Edward Roybal Residence, both in Boyle Heights and listed in the National Register, were identified through research conducted for the statewide Latinos in Twentieth Century California context.20 Latino Los Angeles followed on the heels of this context. The Forsythe School is an example of early Protestant outreach and church-based Americanization efforts in the form of social services, settlement houses, and schools. The school is also significant for its association with Japanese American history in Los Angeles. Known as Evergreen Hostel, the building was used in the period immediately following World War II as temporary living quarters for Japanese Americans. Although this association was noted in the National Register nomination, it was not included as a reason for significance. This omission underscores the need to amend existing nominations to address multiple narratives.
Another example is the Roybal Residence, home of Edward Roybal, champion of civil rights and equal access to education, health care, and housing. In 1949 Roybal became the first Mexican American to be elected to the Los Angeles City Council since 1883. In 1962 he was elected to the US Congress, making him the first California Latino elected to the House of Representatives in the twentieth century. FIG. 8
SurveyLA field efforts in South Los Angeles uncovered the Goodyear Gardens neighborhood, a rare example of affordable worker housing located near factory jobs, developed and built by the Goodyear Tire & Rubber Company. In the 1920s Goodyear hired architects Sumner Hunt and Silas Burns to design the single-family houses in modest interpretations of popular architectural styles of the day. Goodyear Gardens remained largely occupied by workers and their families through the mid-twentieth century. While the neighborhood is not sufficiently intact to become a historic district, four representative residences have been locally designated (HCM nos. 1033–1036). FIG. 10
Moving forward, Historic-Cultural Monument nominations can be more representative of the city’s diversity. The types of resources now being considered are more complex than those previously considered for the Historic-Cultural Monument program. The historic contexts, and their eligibility standards, encourage the designation of properties important for their associative qualities rather than their physical attributes.
— BEYOND DESIGNATION: PLANNING CHALLENGES AND OPPORTUNITIES
While SurveyLA findings facilitate the designation of resources that better represent the city’s diversity, perhaps more importantly, they are provoking discussions of how the data can serve larger citywide efforts. From the outset, the findings informed planning policies, goals, and objectives; survey results are now being tied to broader initiatives to celebrate neighborhood diversity and cultural identity and inform the vision for neighborhoods into the future.
A challenge and opportunity for Los Angeles is to integrate the results with programs and services led and provided by other city departments. There are opportunities for interdepartmental collaboration in meeting the broader goal of telling the stories of all Angelenos. For example, there is an overlap between the work of the OHR and the Department of Cultural Affairs (DCA), which manages programs that support arts and cultural activities.22 In practice, interdepartmental collaboration is often hindered by large and dispersed city offices, scarcity of staff time, and the difficulty of allocating funding for joint programs or projects. Areas of immediate opportunity are the city’s mural program and the conservation of historic murals and public art. Both departments have an interest in and responsibility for the promotion of these resources; however, mural registration is an activity solely administered by the DCA.23
Still, strides are being made. Heritage resources are now taken into account during the process of updating the city’s thirty-five community plans. Part of the Land Use Element of the City’s General Plan, these plans guide the future growth and development of Los Angeles neighborhoods citywide. Planners are familiarized with SurveyLA findings for their geographic area—that is, the broad historical patterns of settlement, migration, growth, and development that shaped the social and built environment of neighborhoods over time. For the planners, the findings can demystify heritage resources. Understanding that heritage resources need not be exemplary architectural specimens—or buildings, for that matter—challenges planners to craft policies that sustain and celebrate community heritage in ways that serve the growth and well-being of neighborhoods.
Like any young boy, Zahir’s instinct was to run and climb the tree. However, after his mother warned him not to climb, he looked at the tree more closely. It looked like a healthy tree—that is, until he noticed the tension rods. FIG. 2 From far away, the rods are inconspicuous, but they keep this tree together. Like the historical marker, the rods exemplify a supportive white benevolence, keeping the tree erect. The truth of the tree’s condition, of enslavement, of liberation, is all obscured by the seemingly smooth transition from slavery to emancipation depicted on the historical marker.
In this sublime park space, amid a master-planned landscape of Houston bedroom communities, a child sees a large tree, forgets how old it is, assumes it can hold his weight, and contemplates climbing it. This is how “forgetting as annulment” becomes child’s play. Signage and his mother tell him to be careful, but nothing in the landscape or on the marker acknowledges what is missing from the narrative. Even local news articles that engage descendants of Ed Gibbs indicate little about the positionality of this particular slave and his family with respect to others on the plantation. While visitors are welcome in a public park, can these absences in the public narrative be processed and substantively engaged? How do we foreground the critical enslaved voice, which has become a “null value” of missing information?
— THE CASE FOR COUNTERNARRATIVES
Preservation is alternately blamed for spatial inequality or gentrification and lauded for the ways it can catalyze social inclusion.2 Planning and preservation scholars point to the possibilities for increased participation through activities such as storytelling and public remembrance.3 While support for safeguarding Black (African American) historic sites has increased in recent years, “authorized heritage discourse” inhibits identification, interpretation, and commemoration of difficult Black
history.4 Local governments struggle with how to interpret or manage fraught public histories or sites of conscience involving slavery and convict leasing. However, stories of Black agency in these contexts are often similarly repressed or overshadowed by places and sites with conciliatory or uncomplicated versions of Blackness. Within the context of public history and heritage conservation, representing Black agency demands a comprehensive portrayal of Black identity and heritage, including manifestations of fugitivity, subversion, and resistance in the past and the present.5 Forgetting as annulment and disremembering—that is, reckless omission from public memory—of Black agency in Texas’s public history and cultural landscapes must be met with counternarratives in historic Black settlements or embodied by the descendants of enslaved Black Texans.6
Complex stories of resistance and self-making are essential to creating truly inclusive preservation practice and public history. Fissures can be identified in authorized heritage discourse where these counternarratives can interrupt or complicate foundational stories of settlement and origination. Foundational stories, Leonie Sandercock explains, involve “telling and re-telling the story” in a way that causes people to repro- duce behaviors and their identities. These stories give “communities and nations” “meaning to their collective life” and are the hinge of any society’s culture. Stories define culture, Sandercock maintains, because they “bond us with a common language, imagery, metaphors, all of which create shared meaning.”7
Structured as critical reflections on field notes, this essay describes and analyzes encounters with forgetting and remembering while recording Black community origin stories told by deep East Texas freedom colony descendants. These field notes explicate the ways groups in these contexts obscure community origin stories rooted in Black agency while centering narratives rooted in settlerism, white benevolence (the “good master” myth), and “bootstraps” ideologies. I pay specific attention to the ways that freedom colony descendants in one community leverage a fugitive slave narrative to center Black agency in local public history. Later, in another context, my own positionality changes as I go from being an inductive observer to a partial and then a full participant—encountering, documenting, and embodying counternarratives.
— A FRAMEWORK FOR CURATING PLACE-MAKING AS FREEDOM-SEEKING
Curation of a space, place, or landscape should be a process of investigating the absences—what Jacob Gaboury refers to as the “null value.” Gaboury employs Edgar Codd’s definition of the null value as a way to represent “missing information and inapplicable information in a systematic way, independent of data type.”8 Digital humanities scholar and historian Jessica Marie Johnson posits that this null value is actually the fugitivity of enslaved women in the archive.9 How then does the curator become the willing accomplice of fugitivity? That is, how does the public historian or the preservationist explicitly seek out and foreground attempts to seek freedom from sociospatial constraints in racialized landscapes?10
The null value of the critical enslaved voice is central to recognizing place-making as African American freedom-seeking. How do we hear the omitted, the annulled, and the deliberately forgotten? Rendering these places—and other spaces of Black agency and place-making in states of bondage, fugitivity, or recent freedom—visible and geographic requires creating spaces for cocreation with those holding evidence of resistance and freedom-seeking. In my work researching freedom colonies from 2014 through 2016, I had to explore new ways to listen for and document the null value. Further, I endeavored to share power with the grassroots place-keepers and preservationists engaged in stewardship, interpretation, and advocacy in places rendered ungeographic by prevailing definitions of place in historic preservation and urban planning. The dominant white sociolegal constructions of place (and the public history that reinforces their power) negate Black epistemologies of planning and preservation, and they obscure hidden Black agency in past and current descendant
Where are the narratives depicting these processes of becoming free, in which the recently freed sought out earth welcoming enough to start new, safe communities after Juneteenth?
— FREEDOM COLONIES: TRACES OF BLACK AGENCY IN THE LANDSCAPE
To understand the settlement of Texas and not just the popular Anglo settler narrative, it is essential to understand the interconnectedness of enslavement, property, and westward expansion. Tales of white settlers attaining, taming, and defending the land are the cornerstone of Texan identity. Texas grew quickly due to the availability of Spanish land grants. Further, for every enslaved person Anglo settlers brought with them, they were afforded another eighty acres. This incentivized settlers’ sense of entitlement to land, expansion, and slavery. By the time African Americans were emancipated, Black Codes inhibited their access to publicly available land, which limited their ability to accumulate land. Nevertheless, African Americans acquired land through adverse possession, also known as squatting, and sometimes through outright purchase. In other cases, Anglo men who fathered interracial children willed property to their progeny. Through a combination of these methods, African Americans went from owning 2 percent of all farmland in Texas in 1870 to owning 31 percent by 1910.12 These clusters of landowners engaged in intentional building of communities anchored by the cemeteries, churches, and schools they built near the railroads and mills in The Bottoms.
In this essay, I use “curation” to describe a process in which narratives renounce their complicity with disremembering and instead work to make visible the null value, the obscured contestations of places and landscape meanings embedded in these places called freedom colonies.13 An umbrella term for places, settlements, and cultural landscapes in which landowning African Americans created communities based upon economic self-determination, self-definition (identity), and security, freedom colonies are both historical landscapes and the site of memory for dispersed, diasporic social geographies. Similar historic Black settlements were founded between 1865 and 1920 throughout the United States; they include Rosewood, Florida (1870); Nicodemus, Kansas (1877); Eatonville, Florida (1887); and Allensworth, California (1908). In Texas such settlements were known as “freedom colonies.”
Thad Sitton and James H. Conrad, in their book Freedom Colonies: Independent Black Texans in the Time of Jim Crow, describe the communities as dispersed settlements “unplatted and unincorporated, individually unified only by church and school and residents’ collective belief that a community existed.”14 Freedom colonies, as historical and contemporary cultural landscapes, challenge conventional wisdom around national histories of Black migration and settlement. Instead of sharecropping, much of freedom colony history is filled with tales of cunning and tactical place-making on abandoned land.15 In freedom colonies, annual commemorative events have become opportunities for the cultural and knowledge reproduction necessary to preserve these now sparsely populated places and their endangered buildings.16
But what happened to the populations of these communities? Several factors contributed to their decline, including the Great Migration, population shifts toward more urban areas within Texas, and a constant threat of violence. Migration, desegregation, growth, and natural disasters all made Black settlements vulnerable. African Americans who accumulated land were frequent targets of white vigilantes. Even as the idea of self-sufficiency was defended and promoted among African Americans, this same ethic attracted the wrath of resentful, racist Anglos. With the expansion of cities, farm-to-market roads, and interstates came infrastructure projects that ran straight through freedom colonies: Interstate 45 eviscerated the Fourth Ward of Houston, Texas, also known as Freedman’s Town. Jobs in industrial factories in the large cities of Texas and California drew people away from family properties that became secondary to more pressing concerns in their new homes.
In the absence of population, the character of structures and settlement patterns, demolition by neglect, and deferred maintenance made many freedom colonies ineligible for the preservation protections afforded to other local historic districts. Local districting, one of the most effective mechanisms for slowing down or halting demolition, was largely out of reach for residents of historic Black settlements, especially in formerly redlined urban areas ineligible for the home improvement loans that would enable these families to address deferred maintenance needs. The increasing invisibility of these communities means that these settlement patterns have become the stuff of intangible heritage, such as oral traditions and memory.
Recognition for the 557 freedom colonies we know existed (357 of which have been mapped) is obstructed by normative planning and preservation practices’ operating assumptions about African American communities. These assumptions inhibit the visibility, voices, and vulnerabilities of freedom colonies from being brought to the center of planning education and practice. FIG. 3 Currently, most memorialization of the past and engagement in the present is limited to those representatives of African American life who reflect traditional notions of success and legitimacy based on leadership in mainstream organizations; those who achieved famous firsts; or those of middle to upper income who espoused respectability politics. The aesthetics of preservation elude African Americans because their presence is interpreted as new and non-historic and integrity of their spaces and structures has often been compromised by additions and modifications. The result of imposing a one-size-fits-all authorized heritage discourse is that African Americans’ spatial values and aesthetics fail to measure up to standards. National Register of Historic Places criteria center on property ownership and documentation from traditionally recognized archives in universities and libraries, creating a preservation apartheid in which African American spaces are disproportionately excluded from legal protections and, as a consequence, are disproportionately subject to demolition. Too often, little physical evidence or archival materials is preserved among African American families, let alone made part of these official archives.
— DEEP EAST TEXAS FREEDOM COLONIES: CONTEXT
Several waves of mixed-race or triracial peoples came to Texas in the early 1820s. One group, called the Melungeons, or “Red Bones,” was originally descended from enslaved Africans in Jamestown, Virginia, who intermarried with English settlers and Native Americans. The Melungeons, more commonly associated with Appalachian mountain people, were often landholding, were free, and sometimes passed for white. They congregated in the Cumberland Gap and in the mountains, especially hidden places that were hard to access and that afforded them some isolation. They migrated from Virginia and South Carolina to Louisiana.17 By the 1830s, Melungeons had left Louisiana and settled in the swamplands of Newton County, Texas, in an area known as No Man’s Land or the Neutral Strip.
This unique mixed heritage and borderland culture along the Sabine River (between Texas and Louisiana), coupled with murky documentation of land-granting practices, destabilized land possession at the same time that it sparked the formation of freedom colonies. African Americans, mulattos, and mixed-race couples all came from the Tidewater states to Texas, believing they would be afforded equal rights and safety under Mexican governance. These settlers sought freedom as well as land. In the 1850s, Frederick Law Olmsted witnessed a Texas that belies the common story of Anglo settlement: “This county has been lately the scene of events, which prove that it must have contained a much larger number of free negroes and persons of mixed blood than we were informed on the spot, despite the very severe statute forbidding their introduction… Banded together, they have been able to resist the power, not only of the legal authorities but of a local Vigilance Committee… on the banks of the Sabine…”18 Coexisting with mixed-race people and African Americans passing as white slaveholders were also fugitive enslaved peoples. In 1860, 25 percent of “white” residents in Newton County owned ten or more enslaved people, and there were 1,013 enslaved people in total.
— CO-CURATING FREEDOM COLONIES IN DEEP EAST TEXAS: STORYTELLING AS PRESERVATION
Shankleville, located in Newton County, about fifteen miles from the Louisiana border and the Sabine River, is one of many historic Black settlements founded after emancipation. What is notable about this particular community is the role of storytelling, not just as a pastime or entertainment but as a way to sustain descendants’ attachment to this sparsely populated and remote community in the woods. The story begins with two enslaved Africans in Mississippi: Winnie, who was sold away to Texas, and Jim Shankle, who ran after her. The fugitive man crossed three great rivers for his love, whom he finally found at a spring less than a quarter mile from the Odom Homestead, which is listed in the National Register of Historic Places. This story in many ways sustains the sense of place that (in part) justifies recognition and preservation of the historic homestead and cemeteries. I heard the story again at an event I hosted. Harold Odom begins his story by describing the sale of his ancestors:
You have a decision made by one slave owner in Mississippi that a slave is going to be sold, either because she was profitable or valuable with the children. Moreover, someone made the decision to buy her, and they broke the family apart and sold Winnie and the children. Heartbroken, Jim ran away and swam 400 miles, across three rivers, “all because of the love of Winnie and the children.” He went from plantation to plantation, asking the enslaved people he encountered if they had seen Winnie and the children. Jim would then describe Winnie by height and appearance. He continued his quest until he found the plantation where Winnie and the children were enslaved, adjacent to present-day Shankleville.
Jim found her under a magnolia tree, at the spring. It was not called Shankleville back then, but there ended up being a spring down the lane, where Winnie would go to get water and to deposit milk, butter, and perishables in the cold spring box down there for him. Jim remained hidden at the spring, and Winnie brought him food from the plantation kitchen. He even devised a system for secret communication: a special whistle that only Winnie recognized. Unfortunately, Jim was discovered.
Harold concluded that Winnie had to tell her master, as the “deliveries got heavier, got a little more frequent, and a little longer.”19 She convinced the slave master to buy Jim, and the two were publicly reunited.
This seemingly fantastical story has catalyzed youth engagement in preservation and descendants’ return to the settlement. A descendant of Jim Shankle, Harold Odom leads the rehabilitation of the homestead and is the keeper of the spring where Jim and Winnie reunited; he teaches younger children to retell the story, and they drink from the spring in something much like an African libation ceremony. They reenact and retell fugitive-centered narratives at events such as their annual home- coming celebration, when people return from all over to a community that—by way of a church or a blood or social kinship—they call home.
Homecoming events emerged during the 1930s and 1940s as a result of the Great Migration. These annual events were a means by which members of the diaspora could reenact their commitment to place preservation. During the two-day event in Shankleville, a church service is held along with an evening music program. Representatives from nearby settlements announce their homecoming events and contribute to the offerings, which support the event as well as maintenance of Shankleville’s historic cemeteries. The same practice is reciprocated at other freedom colony homecomings in the area over the next several months.
In 2015 I was asked to be one of the co-planners of Shankleville’s freedom colony symposium. The symposium was led by descendants of the settlement’s founders and included exchanges with experts, gov- ernment agencies, and white county historical commission leaders. Still, the event centered on freedom colony information-sharing. Self-reliance, land-based heritage, and the bodily and physical sovereignty experienced in freedom colonies came up repeatedly over the day. As participants told stories passed down through generations, they co-counseled each other on approaches to conservation, managing tax liabilities, and the ways sovereignty operates on both an individual and a mass scale.
Soon after the event, I accompanied descendants (who may or may not live full-time in the freedom colonies) on walking tours through unmapped, no longer populated freedom colonies that contained cemeteries with fresh burials and recently replaced flowers. I recorded stories and distributed a paper survey. At other times, I was simply a guest in people’s homes. The stories I encountered perfectly exemplified the coexistence of fugitivity and repression of the local heritage of freedom-seeking through place-making.
Most of my research took place in the neighboring counties of Newton and Jasper. Huff Creek Community, in Jasper County, is one of many freedom colonies whose foundational stories were buried under racial violence or overshadowed by the commemoration of Confederate veterans’ history.20 In particular, Huff Creek Memorial Chapel is an example of the coexistence of Black agency and anti-Blackness in Texas’s cultural landscape. Formerly the Rosenwald School for African Americans, the chapel is in an area that served as an informal border crossing between Newton and Jasper Counties. FIG. 4 Jasper County is best known today, however, for the dragging death of James Byrd Jr. in 1998. Many believe the incident happened in the city of Jasper. However, Byrd was actually dragged behind a pickup truck down Huff Creek Road—which is not just a road but also the site of a freedom colony—to the foot of the Huff Creek Memorial Chapel sign; that’s where pieces of his body were found. Yet that is not the story of the place that people share. Instead, the people I spoke to told the story of how students came to the school from each county, how they later married and even founded more freedom colonies. But still, in the public imagination, the story of white violence suppresses this story of ongoing place-making through social interaction.
— CO-CURATING BLACK AGENCY IN THE BODY
Gonzales County, Texas, home of the “come and take it” cannon, is a great place to contemplate the connection between Texas public history and implicit bias.21 In Texas, the story of this cannon is an example of the romanticization of white settlerism as it represents Anglos’ tenacity in their formation of a republic. Considered the “Lexington and Concord” of Texas independence, Anglo settlers fighting for independence defended the cannon given to them by the Mexican government—thus the saying “come and take it.” Absent from the story is the centrality of the right to enslave, which is what precipitated tensions between the Mexican government and what would become the Republic of Texas. Daring the Mexican government to retrieve its cannon was a proxy for Texans’ conflict over their right to own slaves. The cannon is now housed in a large art deco building that serves as a mini-museum. Less than a mile away in Gonzales’s town square stands a Confederate monument.
I was invited to Gonzales to participate in a workshop organized by the Gonzales County Historical Commission in partnership with the Texas Historical Commission’s certified local government (CLG) program. As part of the workshop, held August 1, 2018, I provided training on addressing implicit bias and including more freedom colonies in survey processes.22 The workshop took place in the historic Providence Missionary Baptist Church in a freedom colony in Gonzales. The training included a storytelling activity, but rather than having only freedom colony descendants share, I invited all attendees to share their stories and to make relevant connections between their core stories and the foundational stories of the State of Texas.
Centering freedom colonies was a foundational shift for the county commissioner, county historical commissioners, and other leaders present. Predominantly women, these lay preservationists are the quasi-govern- mental bodies through which consultation, CLG funding for surveys, and other public monies pass. They are mostly white, and many of them can trace their origins back to the Republic of Texas, including the “Old Three Hundred,” those first recipients of land grants in Texas.23 Foundational to the workshop was not only self-assessment but also an introduction to freedom colony preservation and to the Texas Freedom Colonies Project Atlas, an online mapping tool create by my research team, which participants were invited to use to collect and store data about newly identified Black settlements. During the storytelling exercise, this exchange with an older white woman attending the training took place:
Andrea Roberts: As you were going through this, how did you see your home-place story as the story of Texas, what was the relationship? Did you make any connection?
Participant: I grew up on a thousand-acre original land grant from the Republic of Texas. [The land grant was] through a great-great-grandfather for his service during the Indian wars. They couldn’t pay him, so they gave him a thousand-acre land grant.
AR: Who are “they”?
Participant: The Republic of Texas. It was a republic before it was a state. So the government gave that land to my third or fourth grandfather. He went to Austin and helped form the first legislature and everything… It is woven throughout my family on both sides. It doesn’t get any farther back, going back to the Republic of Texas before it was even a state. That’s a long history.
AR: I identify with that a lot. So, anyone here familiar with the Old Three Hundred? I have an ancestor named Julia. My ancestor Julia was born in Sumter, Tennessee, in 1821, and she was eventually sold to the Kuykendalls (one of the Old Three Hundred) and specifically to Joseph Kuykendall in Fort Bend County. So I have been here since then too. And so when I think about the story of Texas, I very much think about the Republic of Texas, and I very much think about those land grants, and I very much think about how much land they were afforded by virtue of bringing Julia here. These are multidimensional stories, are they not? It is not one story at all—that’s what I want us to think about today, and that I see you thinking about here in Gonzales.
The next stage of the workshop was a deeper examination of bias and how it manifests itself in local preservation planning and surveying. To mark the transition to this stage, I quoted a poem by Lucille Clifton called “why some people be mad at me sometimes”: “They ask me to remember / but they want me to remember / their memories / and I keep on remembering / mine.”24 This poem bridged our conversation from the past to the present and to the recognition of the human impulse to be heard and understood while confronting the biases that inhibit inclusive public histories. I then asked attendees to suggest ways they could engage in inclusive storytelling on a local level. Glenda Gordon, chair of the Gonzales County Historical Commission and our host, responded, cautiously illuminating the bias toward a particular narrative about Gonzales: “There were so many important things happening during the Texas Revolution and that is our claim to fame. And it’s very difficult to include other ethnicities… It’s been our goal for the last five or six years to expand past that time period and to tell all stories that want to be told, and to expand into other times. Texas public history clashes with county historical commission outreach and anti-bias training.”
Regardless of how they are obscured or disremembered, Texas’s origins are inextricably linked to human bondage. FIG. 5 How then do we move past insular story-sharing or shocking confrontations with the ghosts of ancestors past? How do we decenter settler narratives and trouble the systems that keep those who tell these stories in charge of public history in Texas? By creating spaces in which the null, the fugitive, can be given a chance to articulate itself through memory, story, and confrontation with forgetting as annulment. FIG. 6
— INTERRUPTING ANNULMENT, ATTENDING TO THE NULL
CLG workshops like the one in Gonzales that I participated in can serve as a model for how county historical commissions can diversify their leadership and surveying processes. When tensions among attendees arise, there must be room to analyze the latent collusion with dominant narratives that overshadows more diverse narratives. The implications of these exercises occurring in state-led processes are consequential. For example, states can require participation in similar trainings or exercises to access funding for surveying and listing new sites on the National Register of Historic Places. In Texas, as well as in many other states, county historical commissions are particularly good spaces for fostering these values because they are also the interested parties that are consulted during Section 106 review processes. If unaware of the diverse people and places impacted by a federally funded project yet undocumented in the historical record, county historical commissions become complicit in the erasure of endangered places. Leveraging culturally situated and state-led social curation work spaces enables us to examine the ways that biases perpetuate certain constructions of state identity and statist narratives, constructions that undermine stories of Black self-making and the creative, insurgent survivalism manifested in stories of African American place-making.25
In the fifty years since Stonewall, there have been great, if uneven, strides in LGBT rights in the United States. Political advances—such as federal recognition of same-sex marriage—would have been unthinkable even a decade ago, but in many states, there are still no laws protecting LGBT people from being dismissed from their jobs or evicted from housing because of who they are. Throughout the country, violence and sexual assault against trans individuals is a growing problem. And it is always important to remember that there are many countries in the world where same-sex relationships are still illegal, and several where they are punishable by death.
— PRESERVATION AND LGBT HISTORY
Since the publication of George Chauncey’s Gay New York in 1994, there has been a steady stream of books examining LGBT history in specific cities or regions of the United States.2 However, the historic preservation community has been slow to recognize the importance of America’s LGBT history and the contributions of LGBT individuals to American history and culture. Even though attempts to connect historic preservation and LGBT history began in the early 1990s, only in the past few years has the move to identify, interpret, and preserve sites of significance to LGBT contributions to American history gained traction. It is particularly ironic that LGBT-related sites have received so little attention from the preservation community until recently since there have been so many gay and lesbian professionals in the historic preservation field.3
The most expansive preservation tool relating to LGBT issues has been the enormous, two-volume study published by the National Park Foundation and the National Park Service in 2016, which investigates the LGBTQ history of various places and among diverse social communities.4 A handful of more specific LGBT context statements have been completed for specific cities, including San Francisco, Los Angeles, and New York, which have large, vocal LGBT communities.5 What is especially heartening is that efforts to identify LGBT sites and recognize their local significance have also taken root in places that might surprise some activists. One especially notable effort is the 126-page LGBTQ Historic Context Narrative completed for the state of Kentucky in 2016.6 As a result of this report, two National Register listings were officially amended to include their significance to the LGBT community.7 But progress made under such studies can be tenuous. The Kentucky study was completed soon after the state elected a conservative governor, and, although the new administration allowed the project to proceed unimpeded, the change in political climate meant that the planned publicity for the report was shelved and related projects have been slow to take shape.8
Besides the theme studies (which take a great deal of time to produce and depend on a long-term funding commitment), smaller scale identification, interpretation, and preservation projects have taken hold in a variety of communities, sponsored by both city governments and private groups. In Los Angeles, the private Los Angeles Conservancy has posted a “microsite” that identifies about three dozen LGBT-related sites.9 In Boston and Cambridge, volunteers at the History Project created a Stonewall 50 project, hanging banners and posters from local buildings important to LGBTQ history. FIG. 2 These sites are also interpreted through an interactive map.10 And in Chicago, the city’s official tourism marketing group has created “Exploring Gay Chicago in History: LGBTQ Landmarks Tour,” highlighting eight LGBT-related sites.11
In several cities where historic markers are a major component of preservation efforts, various sites have recently been recognized for their importance to the LGBT community. Philadelphia pioneered such efforts in 2005 with a plaque recognizing the Independence Hall Annual Reminder Days demonstrations, when gay and lesbian activists picketed Independence Hall on July 4 each year from 1965 through 1969, conservatively dressed in business attire and holding rather polite signs such as “discrimination against homosexuals is immoral” and “homosexuals should be judged as individuals.” FIG. 3 The final demonstration took place only a few days after Stonewall.12 By 2019 historic markers celebrating specifically LGBT places and events could be found in cities as varied as Nashville, Tennessee; Kansas City, Missouri; Dallas, Texas; Cleveland and Dayton, Ohio; and Roanoke, Virginia.
But there is still a long way to go even in more progressive places, with few designated sites specifically related to LGBT history. Of the 94,668 sites listed on the National Register in June 2019, only a few dozen even tangentially mention LGBT issues, with fewer focused on LGBT people and events. A few cities have designated individual properties as landmarks, protected under their local preservation ordinances. For example, three buildings in San Francisco are official city landmarks, four in Los Angeles, one in Chicago, and, until June 2019, only one building—the Stonewall Inn itself—was a landmark designated for its LGBT significance in New York.14 Additional official landmarks in these and other cities are associated with LGBT stories, but their LGBT history was not called out as part of their designations—Jane Addams’s Hull-House and the Lorraine Hansberry House in Chicago are two examples of this all too prevalent problem.
— LEARNING FROM THE NEW YORK CITY EXPERIENCE
My colleagues Ken Lustbader and Jay Shockley and I have been advocates for the recognition of LGBT sites in New York City for more than twenty-five years. In the 1990s we sometimes undertook subtle interventions that changed the focus of historic sites—adding the discussion of two LGBT sites to the New York City Landmarks Preservation Commission’s Guide to New York City Landmarks in 1992 and incorporating LGBT themes into the commission’s designation reports.15 Meanwhile, in 1993 Lustbader wrote his master’s thesis on preserving gay and lesbian sites in Greenwich Village.16
The first major public project on the significance of LGBT sites was completed for the twenty-fifth anniversary of Stonewall in 1994, when we were on the preservation subcommittee of OLGAD, the Organization of Lesbian and Gay Architects and Designers. In celebration of the anniversary, we (along with other colleagues) compiled and published A Guide to Lesbian & Gay New York Historical Landmarks.17 FIG. 5 This brochure consisted of a map with the location of important sites in Greenwich Village, Midtown, and Harlem (plus a few major sites elsewhere in the city), and brief descriptions of why each site was significant. We believe that this was the first published guide to lesbian and gay historic sites in the United States.
Stonewall was an obvious landmark, and our other actions have been relatively small in comparison to the impact that LGBT people have had on New York City. More needed to be done to recognize LGBT-related sites. This realization led to our successful grant application to the National Park Service’s Underrepresented Communities Grant Program. With this grant, in 2015 we launched the NYC LGBT Historic Sites Project, a citywide survey of extant LGBT sites dating from the establishment of New Amsterdam in the early seventeenth century to the year 2000. The project has completed a theme study for LGBT sites in New York City and successfully prepared several new and amended National Register nominations, but our central focus is a growing, interactive website (www.nyclgbtsites.org) with detailed entries, archival images, ephemera, and multimedia.20 Our complimentary activities include lectures, tours, and classroom presentations at New York City public schools.
Why are we doing this? We see the NYC LGBT Historic Sites Project as a pioneering cultural heritage initiative and educational resource that is comprehensively identifying and interpreting sites connected to LGBT history and culture in New York City. This is the first such comprehensive survey of LGBT sites ever undertaken in the United States. Our aim is “to make an invisible history visible” and to bring to the fore the contributions that LGBT people have made to both local and national history and culture. The NYC LGBT Historic Sites Project includes, but goes far beyond, the more obvious sites like Stonewall, or gay and lesbian bars, or places of sexual encounter, or locations of political activism to include sites related to LGBT individuals and their accomplishments, thus accentuating the central place that LGBT people and communities have had on America. As part of this effort, we specifically call out places related to architecture, dance, literature, music, theater, and visual arts. For example, the Winter Garden Theatre is recognized as the site of the premiere of West Side Story, a masterpiece that was almost entirely the work of gay men and lesbians—notably composer Leonard Bernstein, choreographer and director Jerome Robbins, lyricist Stephen Sondheim, librettist Arthur Laurents, set designer Oliver Smith, costume designer Irene Sharaff, lighting designer Jean Rosenthal, lead actor Larry Kert, and other members of the original cast. FIG. 7
A key aspect of the NYC LGBT Historic Sites Project is to shed light on an aspect of American history that is largely overlooked, ignored, or, especially in the past, discussed in a negative light. Many people believe that gay history began with Stonewall. At the announcement of the National Park Service’s LGBTQ theme study in May 2014, LGBT philanthropist Tim Gill of the Gill Foundation, lead funder of the study, stood in front of Stonewall and stated that the gay community had only a brief history, and one that began there. While demonstrably false, this idea is widely believed as LGBT people often have had to hide their identities or have had their histories erased and, therefore, their accomplishments as LGBT people have not been acknowledged. This ignorance makes it of paramount importance to document and recognize significant LGBT sites.
The NYC LGBT Historic Sites Project is also a social justice initiative. In spite of the enormous advances of LGBT rights over the last fifty years, there are still threats to these rights and to queer people across America—evident, for example, in Trump-administration actions against the transgender community and its opposition, before the Supreme Court, to including sexual orientation and gender identity in anti-discrimination protections. The interpretation of extant sites where individuals or groups made a mark on our history can be a powerful tool for instilling pride in members of a community and in educating the public about those contributions. This effort to identify and interpret LGBT sites parallels efforts in the African American and other communities to use historic sites as a means to explore issues of identity and the complexities of American history. Many people who have attended our walking tours have commented on how moved they have been to see the sites where LGBT people fought for their rights or simply lived their lives. People have been particularly excited as we place rainbow flags at the burial sites of LGBT individuals at Green-Wood and Woodlawn cemeteries. FIG. 8
— CHALLENGING PRESERVATION POLICY AND PRACTICE
Identifying, interpreting, and preserving sites of LGBT history is not always an easy task. As previously noted, many of the places where important events occurred or where LGBT people met and interacted in the past are simply not known since discriminatory laws and generalized homophobia meant that they could not be publicized. Other sites were transient, such as the private apartments where African American men met when they were excluded from commercial gay bars or similar settings where lesbians held potluck dinners because they had few public places in which to safely socialize. Even in contemporary New York City, homophobia can still be an issue, as we discovered when the owner of the house in Flushing, Queens, that was the childhood home of early gay activist Morty Manford and the place where his parents founded PFLAG (Parents and Friends of Lesbians and Gays) rebuffed our request to list the house on the National Register, stating that she did not want her house known as the “gay house on the block.”
Beyond simply identifying sites, a most pressing issue is how the preservation community deals with sites that are significant for their historic and cultural value as opposed to their architectural qualities. When the modern preservation movement developed in the 1960s, architectural value was paramount, even as the movement paid lip service to history and culture. This bias is a result of the fact that most of those who lobbied for preservation laws and established landmark commissions were architectural historians or had, in some way, been trained in architecture. Thus, vernacular buildings were generally ignored unless they were very old or associated with a founding father or other figure of national historic significance.21 By the time Stonewall 50 was celebrated, the NYC LGBT Historic Sites Project had fully documented more than 200 sites with significant LGBT history; more than 350 others had been identified but needed additional research. Most of these sites are historically and culturally significant but may be of only limited architectural interest.
How can we rally the preservation community around a building that is not architecturally distinguished and where the history is hidden, as it is with so many LGBT sites? Take 240 West 38th Street, for example, a modest four-story loft in the Garment District dating from 1925. FIG. 10 Unknown to most of those who walk by is the fact that from March 1967 through 1971, this was home to the Corduroy Club, a private social club that offered a largely older lesbian and gay community an alternative to the bar scene, with dances, card parties, plays, movie nights, and dinners. It was a significant effort by the pre-Stonewall LGBT community in New York to have a social space that was outside the control of the Mafia, New York State Liquor Authority regulations, and police arrests and entrapment. It was seen at the time as “the only true private club in the US operated by members of a homophile organization for all homosexuals.”22
And what about a site of historical or cultural value that has been altered? This is an especially pressing issue since many vernacular buildings, including those of cultural value, have evolved over time, with re-sided facades and altered interior layouts. With its emphasis on integrity, including the integrity of interior spaces that the public never sees, many important sites are not eligible for National Register listing, threatening their survival. This issue, of course, goes beyond just LGBT sites. Perhaps no site in New York has been more controversial than the Walt Whitman House, at 99 Ryerson Street in the Wallabout neighborhood of Brooklyn, which was not granted a public hearing by the New York City Landmarks Preservation Commission and was rejected by the State Historic Preservation Office as a potential National Register listing. FIG. 11 Whitman led a peripatetic life: between 1823 and 1862 he lived at more than thirty addresses in Manhattan and Brooklyn. The Ryerson Street house is the only one that survives. Whitman lived there from May 1855 to May 1856, just when Leaves of Grass was being published and where Ralph Waldo Emerson came to visit having read and admired the poem. The site has clearly been altered; it now has another story and is entirely clad in synthetic siding. But should we judge the site through an architectural lens, or by looking at relevant cultural interest and meaning? Shouldn’t this house be saved now, protected from demolition, and, over time, returned to a state that might be more recognizable to Whitman? It is time that we reassess how culturally significant sites are evaluated and regulated at both the local and the national levels so that extant sites with compromised architectural integrity can still be recognized and preserved.
As a result of the lack of awareness of LGBT history and LGBT-related places, buildings of historical importance are being lost. A prime example is 69 West 14th Street, on the corner of Sixth Avenue, a modest, four-story commercial building erected in 1909. FIG. 12 For many years, this building was the home of Alternate U. (or Alt U.), a politically radical, counterculture school where the Gay Liberation Front (GLF) met from July 1969 to December 1970. GLF was the first political group founded after Stonewall, with its inaugural meeting held only a few days after the riot. GLF held its meetings and weekly dances in this building. It was here that the group organized protests, including one against the progressive weekly newspaper the Village Voice, which had until then refused to use the word “gay.” They also sponsored meetings of allied groups including Street Transvestites Action Revolutionaries (STAR) and Gay Youth.23 Demolition began on the building in spring 2019.
Since the passage of New York City’s Landmarks Law in 1965, government agents and citizen advocates of historic preservation have traditionally refrained from engaging in the complex issues of social justice that confront many historic neighborhoods. With such a powerful regulatory tool at their disposal, preservationists have focused on designating as much historic fabric in the city as possible. Their achievement is impressive: more than 1,500 individual buildings and interiors and 149 neighborhood historic districts—comprising more than 37,000 properties altogether—currently enjoy Landmarks Preservation Commission protection. In these places, the buildings are secured. But what about everything else that makes a place historic, unique, important, and special—like the businesses and institutions housed within buildings? And what about the people who inhabit the place, who shop in the neighborhood commercial corridor, who worship as part of a congregation near their homes, who play with their kids in the park on the corner? While the physical fabric of a designated historic district may be protected from drastic alteration, if everything else in the district changes, can we say that these communities are really preserved?
Throughout the five decades since the passage of the Landmarks Law, the city’s economy has fluctuated and, relatedly, its demographics have evolved and changed. Particularly during the recovery from the economic crash of 2008, New Yorkers of low, moderate, and middle income have found themselves with less and less choice of where to live. Many are people of color who face the extreme challenges brought about by our nation’s long history of racism in housing and economic policy. These challenges are exacerbated by the presence of people of means who have the ability to choose their employment and neighborhood of residence, and who have the privilege and purchasing power to buy their own homes. The result has been the rampant displacement of families and individuals from communities they have lived in for decades, as well as growing homelessness and increasing despair.1
What role should preservationists play in addressing these urban problems? Traditionally, historic preservation law focuses on addressing the ways that market forces affect buildings, absent consideration of the gross inequity of displacement or the impact on a community when its population is driven away. On the other end of the spectrum, community development corporations (CDCs) and other community-based organizing groups stand at the forefront of addressing the injustices experienced by people. In partnership with grassroots activists organized around combating racial, gender, and economic inequality in the city, CDCs are working on the ground in more than a hundred neighborhoods to preserve and develop affordable housing, foster local entrepreneurship, preserve minority-owned businesses, create parent-engaged local schools, and improve community health. Their efforts to preserve community include (but go well beyond) the physical fabric of a neighborhood—they are trying to fundamentally change how the city functions to ensure that marginalized groups have equitable choices and the right to live and thrive in the neighborhoods they call home.
Historic preservation as a discipline and as a practice can contribute—and is, in discrete ways, contributing—to this effort. But as we look back on more than fifty years of preservation “battles” and landmark designation activities, it’s tempting to conclude that the exclusive goal of historic preservation policy in New York City is to memorialize a past architecture and ignore everything else. Despite preservation efforts that take on the challenge of preserving intangible heritage, historic preservation is still, in many urbanist circles, an undesirable heading that denotes saving buildings not as a means to understanding and perpetuating the city’s rich ethnic and cultural diversity, but as an end in itself.
In advancing social equity through the practice of preservation, it may be instructive to examine the modern history of historic preservation and community development. While robust research about early preservation efforts in New York City has been underway for twenty years by scholars as well as organizations such as the New York Preservation Archive Project, the relationship between historic preservation and community development in the city has not been much discussed. In fact, the synergies that can be seen during the formative years of both movements are striking. To those of us who seek to practice in the space between these fields, the past provides an important platform for us to build upon in our work today.
— URBAN DECLINE AS BACKDROP FOR NEW CITIZEN-LED MOVEMENTS
The historic preservation and community development movements in New York City, as we understand them today, have their roots in the city’s mid-twentieth-century decline. The postwar years transformed the city economically, demographically, and physically, in part because of a confluence of federal policies, deindustrialization, and migration. Federal policies at the time were distinctly anti-urban, with public subsidies supporting the development of suburbs as well as a highway system that connected suburban residents to jobs in the central city. Together, these policies encouraged middle-class white urbanites to leave urban areas, taking the city’s tax base with them.2 From 1970 to 1995, core urban counties in the New York metropolitan region lost three hundred thousand residents, while the outer suburban ring gained two million. Along with this exodus came the deindustrialization of New York City. In 1950 local manufacturers provided more than a million jobs for New Yorkers; over the decades since, a steady decline has cut that number by three-quarters, dramatically reducing employment opportunities for middle-class New Yorkers, some of whom followed the employment trail out of the city to the sprawling areas to the south and west.3
Just as white middle-class New Yorkers and middle-class jobs were starting to trickle out of the city, large numbers of southern Blacks and Hispanics—most notably native Puerto Ricans—were migrating in, looking for better opportunities. New York City’s Puerto Rican population increased by more than thirteenfold between 1940 and 1970, and the city’s Black population more than tripled.4 Beginning in the 1930s, the government-backed policy of redlining hastened the decline of urban communities as banks and the real estate industry refused to finance home purchases in the neighborhoods to which Blacks and immigrants were moving. This decline was compounded by blockbusting, whereby banks and developers purchased properties at below-market prices from frightened white homeowners and resold them at a profit to minority families.5 In many neighborhoods, new owners with little or no expendable income rented out apartments or rooms to other low-income tenants. Despite the additional income, in many cases homeowners were unable to physically maintain their buildings. Some white middle-class homeowners refused to sell, instead relocating to the suburbs and renting out their old homes but neglecting them horribly. Arson, inadequate housing conditions, and rising crime rates followed, and the shrinking tax base did nothing to shore up the city’s failing economy. As the 1970s economic crisis set in, New York City’s infrastructure eroded, schools failed, retail and manufacturing businesses folded or moved elsewhere, and unemployment brought about considerable neighborhood decline.
Federal urban renewal policies that were intended to assist low- and moderate-income New Yorkers to keep their housing only worsened the decline. New development programs set up to foster public-private partnerships, with public subsidies to private for-profit developers, effectively cleared out “blighted” historic neighborhoods.6 These urban renewal plans reorganized urban communities into high-rise complexes to house the poor, while middle-class housing subsidies were still largely geared toward suburban development in the first-ring suburbs of Westchester and Long Island.7 The city’s slum clearance approach demolished block upon block of nineteenth- and early twentieth-century residential buildings, replacing some with “tower in the park”-style housing but leaving many more blocks vacant. Meanwhile, very little was being done to provide the kinds of assets a healthy community needs—such as decent schools, shopping areas, and jobs.
— COMMUNITY DEVELOPMENT CORPORATIONS FORM IN RESPONSE
The community development (CD) and historic preservation (HP) movements emerged, in part, as a response to these conditions. While the public policies and civic engagement that epitomize both CD and HP predate the 1960s, the assault on the built fabric brought about by the city’s vigorous urban renewal programs and the master planning of Robert Moses sparked grassroots action on a new scale.8 Religious and community leaders recognized that the government was not going to address the problems in distressed low-income neighborhoods. With the help of progressive urban planners and architects from Pratt Institute in Brooklyn’s Clinton Hill neighborhood, itself torn apart by urban renewal policy, they “birthed” the city’s grassroots community development movement in the 1960s. These new community-governed nonprofit organizations were able to take on economic development and physical planning projects through community empowerment and strategies of self-help.
The nation’s first federally-funded CDC, the Bedford-Stuyvesant Restoration Corporation, was created in 1967 with the support of Senator Robert Kennedy, who, at the invitation of community leaders, visited Bedford-Stuyvesant in central Brooklyn and saw firsthand what disinvestment and urban renewal had done to the once thriving
community.9 FIGs. 1, 2 Bed-Stuy Restoration sought (and still seeks) to revitalize its community through a variety of programs that blended social services, job creation, physical renovation, community building, business development, and outreach.10 The organization was one of many such CDCs that formed in New York City and other urban centers in this early period. In pockets of the city, grassroots community rebuilding efforts reclaimed abandoned buildings to create affordable housing for residents displaced by urban renewal. Throughout the 1970s they renovated thousands of units of housing and “laid the groundwork for the renewed city, an observable truth ignored or minimized by most contemporary histories of the city.”11 The CDCs focused on economic development and social services, as well as renovating neglected or substandard existing buildings, as opposed to developing new housing. By engaging community residents in civic action, CDCs brought a sense of bootstrap empowerment to communities that had felt neglected and ignored.
As philanthropic and government support emerged—from the Ford Foundation’s Gray Areas program, the Housing Development Corporation, and financial intermediaries like Enterprise and Local Initiatives Support Corporation, among others—the scale of what CDCs could do began to expand. Public and private entities provided direct capital to CDCs to invest in building renovation and property development, while intermediaries like Pratt Institute Center for Community and Environmental Development (known as PICCED from 1970 to 2005, and now as Pratt Center for Community Development) provided operational support to help build and train staff members recruited from within the community, and contributed technical assistance such as urban planning and architectural services.12 In 1977 Congress passed the Community Reinvestment Act, which required banks to meet the needs of all creditworthy customers regardless of income levels, thereby ending the official practice of redlining. In the 1990s the US Department of Housing and Urban Development joined forces with philanthropies and financial institutions to form the National Community Development Initiative, which provided hundreds of millions of dollars in grants and loans to CDCs around the nation to strengthen local communities and build new housing.13
The focus for many of these citizen-led organizations was rehabilitating abandoned buildings and revitalizing blocks that had been decimated by the racist housing policies of the preceding decades. Through a combination of funded work and sweat equity in neighborhoods like Mott Haven in the Bronx and South Williamsburg in Brooklyn, they transformed rubble-strewn lots into thriving urban farms and rehabilitated hundreds of abandoned row houses into viable, livable housing for low-income residents. CDCs developed an impressive variety of community and social service programs to address environmental issues and community health; they also provided job training, helped residents find employment, and worked to address a variety of other social and economic issues facing their communities. By engaging community residents and other stakeholders, accessing resources to foster community self-help, and building community power, CDCs have helped restore, rehabilitate, and preserve their communities—physically, environmentally, socially, and economically. FIGs. 3, 4
— “MODERN” HISTORIC PRESERVATION EMERGES
While CDCs emerged in more than a dozen low-income communities of color in New York City to address the most debilitating social and physical urban problems, community-based historic preservation organizations evolved at around the same time in other neighborhoods. The postwar years brought the demolition of many notable historic buildings, including Pennsylvania Station, which became the poster child for the movement to protect the city’s historic fabric. The significant losses prompted civic leaders to catalog the city’s architectural treasures and investigate how aesthetic controls could prevent the city from losing more of its architectural heritage.14 Organizations such as the Municipal Art Society of New York and the New York chapter of the Society of Architectural Historians began to look to historic preservation efforts outside New York City—in places such as New Orleans, Charleston, and Alexandria, Virginia—as models for a new Landmarks Law.15 Meanwhile, several demographic shifts were emerging in New York City: as the inequality of government economic and housing policy displaced low-income immigrant tenants from many brownstone neighborhoods in Brooklyn and Manhattan, young white professionals were reoccupying and revitalizing historic neighborhoods such as Brooklyn Heights, Greenwich Village, and the Upper West Side.16 These more affluent residents organized to fight urban renewal and redevelopment projects that threatened individual architectural treasures and historic neighborhoods. Because they were not blocked from access to capital like their Black and Hispanic neighbors, these white urban professionals were able to purchase historic buildings, and build equity and wealth as well.
Early efforts to save whole neighborhoods helped lay the groundwork for the creation of the New York City Landmarks Preservation Commission and for the 1965 passage of the city’s Landmarks Law. While the language of the law cites social welfare, education, and economic prosperity among its broadest goals, preservationists’ primary interest in architecture and history has led to a far more narrow application of it. Primarily, the Landmarks Law has been used to safeguard historic built heritage through the designation and regulation of individual buildings and neighborhoods based on architectural merit.17 A number of federal laws and government programs have also emerged to assist in this effort, such as the National Historic Preservation Act (1966), which protects significant buildings against the threat of publicly-funded development projects.
Most of the earliest preservation battles were fought by resident-advocates to protect their communities from institutional expansion, government-sponsored urban renewal developments, and Robert Moses’s transportation initiatives—all of which threatened not just homes but entire neighborhoods of middle-income residents, artists, and working people, and sought to displace them from their communities.18 From his plan to plow through Washington Square Park in order to connect upper and lower Fifth Avenue to his proposed Lower Manhattan Expressway, which would have eviscerated the cast-iron streetscapes of SoHo, Moses gave both longtime and new residents of historic New York City neighborhoods plenty of reason to organize and advocate for preservation. Dozens of citizen-heroes emerged during these fights, some of whom, like Jane Jacobs, became icons of the community preservation movement.19 In approaching these struggles as matters of community survival, community advocates sought any and all opportunities to prevent the unthinkable—they were well versed in zoning and other land use policies, as well as the historic preservation tools emerging in other jurisdictions, and brought all of these to bear on their efforts. FIG. 5
These advocates were also willing and able to make considerable personal investments in the repair and maintenance of historic buildings. Their civic engagement, political savvy, and activism—in concert with citywide advocacy by organizations like the Municipal Art Society—kept “progress” from tearing down what is now some of the most valuable real estate in the city. Often referred to as “urban pioneers,” the community preservation advocates prevented a number of neighborhoods with historic nineteenth-century row houses from falling into the decline seen in places like East New York, Brownsville, Harlem, and the South Bronx.20 Some suggest that Mayor Robert Wagner signed the Landmarks Law in part to mollify and encourage these gentrifiers as they personally revitalized the urban core.21 Their achievements are remarkable, but it cannot be forgotten that the opportunity to be “pioneers” in these neighborhoods came about because of the continued marginalization and displacement of low-income people of color.
— HP AND CD UNITY AND DISUNITY
Despite the racial and class differences, built environment advocates from the 1960s and 1970s recall a common sense of purpose in that period as community developers and community preservers worked to revitalize their neighborhoods by protecting building stock from the wrecking ball and insisting on their right to occupy it.22 Their shared concern wasn’t just for the history and architectural merit of the physical fabric; it took in—and took on—the wholesale evisceration of communities caused by urban renewal and the loss of community identity, character, and culture that robbed residents of their place in the city. Robert Moses was their common enemy; his city-building plans had a devastating impact for New Yorkers of all income levels. Battles against Moses’s plans in Manhattan’s West Village and Little Italy, as well as Brooklyn’s Cobble Hill, brought newly launched community planning service providers like PICCED together with neighborhood preservationists such as Jane Jacobs to thwart the demolition of historic buildings and the displacement of their
CDCs are rightly credited with turning around some of the city’s most impoverished communities. They found success by focusing not just on housing but also on people—by insisting upon a seat at the table for their low- and moderate-income constituents, by identifying gaps in essential social services and bringing in resources to fill them, and by providing education and training to enhance their community’s self-sufficiency.24 Like their CDC counterparts, the HP activists often confronted the city over changes that were harming their neighborhoods. However, as members of a more privileged class, their ability to build political power and their capacity to access capital in order to become not just tenant-stakeholders but also property owners meant that they did not face the same struggles that their CDC counterparts were confronting on behalf of their low-income constituents.
The preservationists also had a legislative tool that gave an increasingly laser-like focus to their cause: the Landmarks Law, which empowered the city to intervene in potentially damaging private development plans by regulating changes to properties under its purview. But, of course, the law had opponents as well—it was the target of a number of significant court battles in which real estate interests challenged its constitutionality. The city’s defense ultimately prevailed through the 1970s and 1980s; however, advocates both within and outside city government became increasingly wary of applying the Landmarks Law in ways that might invite charges of overreach. While the preservation activism of the 1960s and 1970s embraced the notion of holistic “community preservation,” by the end of the twentieth century most preservationists had narrowed their interests to focus on built-environment history and architectural integrity, thereby limiting their scope to the regulation of aesthetics, which had been affirmed by the US Supreme Court and stood well within the comfort zone of the Landmarks Preservation Commission and its legal defenders.25 The larger questions of community preservation—such as the fate of vulnerable populations and businesses—moved further and further outside their purview.26 Earlier, outward-facing, “urbanistic” impulses yielded considerable ground to inward-looking “curatorial” ones.27
For CDCs and other community-based advocacy groups from the northwest Bronx to southernmost Brooklyn, the improvement in the economy and renewed investment by government and the private sector— which their bootstrap approach had catalyzed—were at first considered to be measures of success.28 Recovery from the economic downturn of the late 1980s brought about an extraordinary building boom in New York City; to the CDCs, the renewed interest among bankers and real estate developers furthered the goals of equitable community development within the private sector. However, the promise of new development began to drive a wedge between CDC interests and those of historic preservationists—the former lobbying for development activity that would bring affordable housing and enhanced social services to their communities, the latter fighting against new development, fearing the damage it would do to low-density historic housing and culturally important places.29
By the mid-1990s, the very different paths pursued by the two movements had estranged their advocates from one another. Many of the largest development projects divided community advocates into opposing
camps.30 In Brooklyn’s Atlantic Yards, for example, preservationists fought against development in order to preserve low-density historic housing, despite their sensitivity to the housing affordability crisis in the area. Community development advocates supported the development project because it promised new affordable apartments, though they acknowledged that the project would significantly harm the historic character of the community.31 It seemed that the equity sought by community development advocates and the historic “sense of place” sought by preservationists were somehow mutually exclusive; developers and their government supporters seemed all too willing to offer the community this set of zero-sum choices.
Today, New York City faces a very different set of issues than it faced in the 1960s and 1970s. Neighborhoods that struggled during the decline and underinvestment of the mid-twentieth century—with their attractive nineteenth-century housing stock—have been rapidly gentrifying, and residents are subjected to intense real estate pressure and rampant displacement. As change comes to these predominantly nonwhite neighborhoods, there is increasing interest in utilizing the Landmarks Law to safeguard the historic fabric. Several communities of color have advocated for designation as part of their community preservation efforts, though creating a historic district does not address many of the threats to longtime moderate-income renters. In neighborhoods such as Bedford-Stuyvesant, in Brooklyn—the community that birthed the community development movement—the discourse around historic designation points to a perception among Black residents that preservation is a tool of gentrification: that it is complicit with displacement, that its goal is to curate buildings and save the neighborhood for wealthier newcomers, while the housing struggles of longtime residents go unaddressed.32 The desirability of using the most powerful tool in the city’s preservation toolkit is, in communities of color, a subject of considerable debate.
— FINDING A MIDDLE GROUND
Advocates of historic preservation and community development share the goal of preserving community—in the form of people, places, and the businesses and institutions that support them both. A growing number of practitioners from both disciplines are seeking a middle ground. Many community development groups have turned to historic preservation tools as they create new community facilities and housing—for example, the Gibb Mansion in Brooklyn and Morrisania Hospital in the Bronx, both award-winning adaptive reuse projects that transformed neglected historic resources into assets for low-income communities.33 Historic preservation organizations have also broadened their activities and skill sets to effect community preservation that is not limited to architecture: many, like the Upper West Side’s Landmark West!, have initiated efforts to preserve local businesses, moving past physical fabric issues to support the preservation of community economic resources.
So what can be done to better integrate economic and social equity goals with those of historic preservation in New York City? One strategy is to use a values-based approach that considers the ways diverse stakeholders see the importance and value of place. Values-based preservation planning recognizes that places—buildings and other spaces made culturally meaningful by use and users—are important to different constituents for different reasons.34 In order to fully understand the meaning of a place and its potential for the future, one must examine the various values constituents attach to it. It is also crucial to acknowledge that meaning and value change over time. This approach requires looking at both past and present values and considering the many different narratives that diverse constituents recall, reflect upon, and identify with. At its core, a values-based approach is as much—if not more—about people as it is about physical fabric. It requires respecting the points of view of those who have attachment to a place even if their ideas challenge long-held narratives and beliefs, or if they are place-users that are not typically consulted. And it calls for a great deal of mediation between the needs of contemporary stakeholders and the traditional physical fabric-oriented goals of historic preservation, which can result in outcomes that look very different from the “win” of landmark designation and architecturally appropriate building stewardship.
— FULTON STREET AND MOTT HAVEN: MERGING AGENDAS
Working with colleagues at Pratt Institute, I’ve been involved in a number of efforts to integrate historic preservation approaches and tools with those of community development.35 Our work has explored how preservation can be used to address issues of social equity, identifying and enhancing community assets while meeting community needs. The ambitions of our community partners went well beyond preserving architectural history and integrity; therefore, landmark designation and regulatory review by the Landmarks Preservation Commission were not sufficient tools. We found that, to address issues of social inclusion, historic preservation practitioners need to acknowledge and embrace community goals beyond aesthetics, to think outside the traditional preservation toolbox, and to listen to community voices.
Pratt Center’s work in downtown Brooklyn sought to secure the future of Fulton Street Mall—located on Fulton between Flatbush Avenue and Adams Street—as a vital public place. Attracting as many as one hundred thousand shoppers daily, the street has been an important commercial corridor since its development in the late 1800s as a destination shopping area. Transformed into something of a pedestrian mall in the 1970s, the Fulton Street Mall has been most popular with a constituency of Black Brooklynites who live in the northeastern neighborhoods of the borough.36
Our project had its roots in the public review process for the 2004 Downtown Brooklyn Redevelopment Plan, which sought to create office and residential space in areas surrounding the shopping corridor. While the plan didn’t propose significant changes to Fulton Street itself, it was clear that the city’s desire to transform the area would have a major impact. Several preservation organizations took an interest in the corridor’s historic architecture and began a campaign for its protection. Though the use of landmark designation offered potential protection for several architecturally distinct buildings, it was clear that it would not preserve the place. The character of Fulton Street Mall was not derived from its architecture alone: it emanated from the businesses that occupied the buildings and, most importantly, from its use as a shopping and gathering place.
While the economy on this stretch of Fulton Street was thriving, there was a prevailing sense among city planners and business leaders that it needed dramatic improvement. Some essentially called for the reinvention of Fulton Street—to entirely replace its cacophonous mix of businesses, shoppers, and signage with a more “comfortable” and sanitized (i.e., white) feel. The impulse of preservation organizations to vouchsafe the area’s architectural history had already touched a nerve with policy-makers who felt the “improvement” of the downtown business environment might be thwarted by landmark designation. On one side, a handful of groups were speaking out against the potential demolition of architectural structures; on another, decision-makers were arguing that the structures might be standing in the way of economic progress.
Both parties may have had valid opinions, but where, in this dialogue, was the voice of the large number of people who comprised the street culture and commerce of Fulton Street Mall? What, in their view, would be worth preserving? What kinds of “improvement” were they hoping for? The opinions of shopper-stakeholders seemed to us to be critical to defining the place’s character, strengths, and weaknesses. And yet those opinions were being ignored. We designed our study to bring these voices into the dialogue, in order to understand the whole significance of the place. We felt that looking beyond the narrow interests of one constituent group or another, one aspect of significance or another, was necessary to ensuring that this key Fulton Street constituency did not get frozen out of the debate.
Over a year’s research and consultation, we found that the Fulton Street corridor had long supported social bonds woven out of economic activity and cultural expression. Like the Greek agora, Arab souk, or Middle Eastern bazaar, Fulton Street is an economic marketplace that fosters many types of interaction, functionally serving as a public square. While by no means considered perfect, it was popular, profitable, and historically relevant to a diverse range of shoppers and visitors. At the same time, it was maligned by many who lived or worked nearby as a place in need of radical transformation. We unearthed many negative perceptions of the corridor among nonusers as well; white newcomers to the area shared perceptions grounded in racial stereotypes and fears about living near a Black shopping district. These stood out as a significant challenge to preserving the culture of the corridor and nurturing its future. In reporting on a sizable community outreach effort, we pointed to the racial disparity in opinions about what was “needed” at Fulton Street Mall.
We analyzed our findings and proposed strategies aimed at improving Fulton Street for its current users and increasing its appeal to those in the areas immediately adjacent to it.37 FIG. 6 We strove to develop recommendations that would achieve some balance between old and new within the corridor. While some of our recommendations were realized, the most gratifying outcome was that we were able to intervene in a one-sided dialogue about the future of what had long been a contested place. In total, a number of historic department store buildings were designated as New York City landmarks and redeveloped for mixed use; an urban design plan significantly improved the public realm for the hundreds of thousands of shoppers who visit the corridor daily; and new development is bringing more and better retail options to the area. It’s impossible to know if these changes would have come without our report (arguably, they would have), but ours was the only effort to engage shoppers in the discussion. Since that time, the development of market-rate residential towers and more upscale businesses around Fulton Street has drastically changed the area. But when one visits the corridor today, the essential character of the place—as evinced by its racially diverse shopping constituency, vibrant street culture, sometimes garish signage, and distinctly urban retail offerings—is much the same as it was then. By seeking to meet the needs and interests of a broad spectrum of stakeholders, much of what users valued about Fulton Street has been preserved despite the changes.
In a Neighborhood Preservation Studio course focused on the Mott Haven section of the Bronx, Pratt Institute graduate students in historic preservation, city and regional planning, urban place-making, and sustainable environmental systems were invited to work with a community-based organization that was looking for support in its efforts to address the significant lack of open space, high rates of asthma, and decreasing affordability of housing in the community.38 While the HP students began with a fairly traditional documentation study—looking at historic maps and census and other public records and identifying how the current built environment of Mott Haven came to be—they found the story of the South Bronx neighborhood’s decline during the 1970s and citizen-led resurgence in the 1980s to be the central historical marker and the most important jumping-off point for the project. The community’s grassroots organizations—which preserved much of the physical fabric and sustained the community of Black and Latino residents in the face of disinvestment and urban renewal—were identified by the students to be among its greatest historic assets. A community survey effort forced all of the students out into the neighborhood, where they observed and interacted with residents and business owners. Working with teachers from a local public school, a number of students were able to share information and engage with middle and high school students whose views and creative ideas informed and inspired them.
The students struggled with the multitude of voices they heard throughout the semester and with the seriousness of the issues facing the community—from the over-policing experienced by youth and adults alike, to the unacceptably poor condition of the local health facilities, to the overcrowding of playgrounds and city-owned open spaces, to the fear of gang violence in many pockets of the neighborhood. However, community members also shared stories that prompted the students to develop potential strategies to address these challenges: stories of the Young Lords public health advocacy and their temporary takeover of a public hospital in 1970, of the resident-led occupation of rubble-strewn lots for urban farming, and of the grassroots effort to reclaim the neighborhood’s waterfront. The heritage of the community as a place of progressive civic engagement and its history as a pillar in the community development movement were important sources of ongoing community power. This heritage inspired the students to suggest that the tools of planning and preservation could—and should—be used to assist the community to remember, identify with, and perpetuate its legacy of self-determination.
Pooling their research and ideas, many of which came directly from their interactions with community members, the students developed a number of proposals for short-, medium-, and long-term community preservation and planning activities. Some of these were place-based, such as a proposal to adapt a soon-to-be-vacated police precinct into a community justice center. Others were programmatic, such as collecting oral histories from generations of community gardeners and sharing these histories with local schoolchildren to inspire the next generation of gardeners. In presenting these ideas to our community partners, the students argued that Mott Haven’s past as a hotbed of locally-led improvement and sustainability provided a powerful foundation for the development of strategies to protect and improve it into the future.
— WHERE DO WE GO FROM HERE?
With all that is at stake in our communities—in New York City and all over the United States—it is hard to imagine that historic preservation practice can remain singularly focused on one aspect of the urban environment and stay relevant. The challenges that community developers and community preservers faced in mid-twentieth-century New York seem remote in today’s economic boom, but that boom brings its own difficulties. By broadening our purview to consider other-than-architectural treasures in our communities and by centering some of the city’s most vulnerable residents—many of whom are, themselves, community treasures—preservation practitioners can find incredibly purposeful applications for their knowledge, interests, and skills. This is the approach we are taking at Pratt, both within professionally led community projects and in the field with our students. We believe it is helping us to find—and invent—new policy directions to meet our most ambitious goals. The resulting energy, ideas, and outcomes remind us that a path to community preservation that is fully community engaged and that embraces social inclusion is one well worth taking.
The research briefly shared in this volume began in 2004 with the Fulton Street Mall study, funded by the J. M. Kaplan Fund. A midcareer grant from the James Marston Fitch Charitable Foundation enabled further research on the evolution of community development and historic preservation as urban social movements in New York City. I am grateful to my colleagues and students at Pratt for their important contributions to the exploration of these issues.
During the symposium in February 2019, intensive discussions helped to cultivate the ideas explored in the preceding chapters of this volume. To help move those ideas from the realm of discourse toward collective agency and practical implementation, participants were asked to consider how inclusion might be enacted through the institutions and policy infrastructures of preservation. While an increasing number of projects and programs around the country are experimenting with and implementing new approaches to inclusive preservation, there is still much work to be done to foster systemic change.
In considering how to confront institutionalized bias and legacies of exclusion, several modes of action were discussed during the two-day dialogue. In breakout groups, we challenged participants to identify specific actions and actors that could promote change:
• Points of leverage: positions in institutions and/or junctures within governance processes where change might be effectively influenced
• Bridges: connections within and/or beyond institutions and across fields to integrate and internalize change
• Ethical engagement: participatory processes to reorient institutions toward shared and equitable decision-making with communities
• Subversive acts: challenges to the status quo to prompt institutional and/or policy change
While neither a formal set of recommendations nor a consensus in the field, the following ideas serve as a provisional agenda to encourage innovative thinking about the pathways toward systemic shifts in preservation policy and institutional frameworks.
The past half century has seen the establishment of preservation in the United States as a discrete professional field, academic discipline, and aspect of public policy. While this distinction has helped to legitimize preservation, it likewise contributes to its exclusivity. Preservation has historically allied itself with architecture, the arts, the humanities, and to some extent the material sciences, but the challenges of inclusion compel more robust connections to the social sciences—in both university and professional environments—so as to better understand intersectionality in heritage work. To forge stronger links to urban planning, community development, sustainability, environmental justice, and other policy arenas with shared goals, preservation needs to reposition itself as an embedded field: embedded in spaces, activities, disciplines, and institutions outside the traditional sphere of heritage work.
Restructure Professional Education
To complement existing education in the multifaceted dimensions of significant places, preservation curricula in universities should be restructured to better prepare students to work with people in a range of socioeconomic and cultural contexts. Beyond the generic call for community participation and a recognition of diverse stakeholders, professional heritage education should incorporate more robust training in the ethics of working with diverse publics, including how to develop cultural competence, establish trust, share decision-making, minimize risk (especially to vulnerable or marginalized populations), create safe spaces, break down language barriers, and more. This curricular orientation toward the methods and principles of inclusion means building the capacities of educators in these areas as well. Forming stronger bridges through networks of educators—for example, by working through the National Council for Preservation Education—would facilitate the sharing of knowledge and best practices, as would mentorship programs and more open-source scholarship.
Educate Beyond the University
While curricular changes at the university level would help to prepare future generations of preservationists to better address the intersection of heritage and inclusion, existing professional and advocate communities still need to build capacity. Training in inclusion ethics and methods could be offered as part of continuing education credits from professional organizations such as the Association for Preservation Technology, the American Institute of Architects, and others. The staff and boards of local historical societies, preservation commissions, and similar organizations, whether government- or civil society-based, could likewise benefit from training opportunities that address inclusion issues in the context of preservation. State Historic Preservation Offices could require such training as part of the Certified Local Government Program as a point of leverage in systemic policy change.
Build Diversity from Within
A fundamental issue in promoting more inclusive preservation in the United States is the demographics of heritage-related organizations and institutions. Perceptions of and research about preservation suggest that its promoters tend to be disproportionately older and more likely to be white, wealthy, and highly educated. Beyond diversifying whose stories are told or which communities are engaged in preservation processes, the institutions that form the infrastructure of heritage policy must work to reflect more racial, ethnic, cultural, and socioeconomic diversity in their staffs, boards, consultants, and project teams. Preservationists should be proponents for the establishment of diversity and equity officers and/or agendas within public and private heritage organizations. University preservation programs should work to establish scholarships and fellowships for people of color and others underrepresented within the field.
Challenge Metrics of Success
While the preservation enterprise involves a broad range of policy tools, municipal agencies tend to focus on designation and design review. The physical protection of a place is a significant driver of decision-making and resource investment, but all too often it serves as the primary metric of success. Questions of how people encounter, engage, interpret, and use such places—that is, how heritage reflects and thus creates a sense of self and community—are an underappreciated aspect of policy implementation and assessment. There is a need to create new expectations and metrics for designated sites given the public investment such listing incurs. Promoting more inclusive preservation policies means understanding—through more intentional research and evaluation—who is benefiting, who is not, and how. It likewise means analyzing how normative tools such as the Secretary of the Interior’s Standards and Guidelines and the National Register criteria, which have an outsize influence on municipal policy, may require revision in order to be more inclusive.
Educate Donors and Reorient Funding Criteria
Preservation in the United States is both a public and a private enterprise. Grants, matching funds, revolving loans, tax credits, and similar financial incentives play a significant role in the physical stewardship of heritage in urban contexts. Promoting more inclusive preservation policy means incorporating a focus on people, not just places, in such funding structures. There is a need to educate donors and other funding agents and to think creatively about how inclusion-oriented criteria might be incorporated into project selection and funding requirements, such as diversity in hiring and contracting, community engagement provisions, inclusion training, and support for outcomes studies. It is likewise necessary to recognize how preservation does happen in less advantaged communities—for example, by assigning value to volunteer labor and leadership. Finally, motivating systemic change entails robust collaboration and communication among diverse actors, and such coming together depends on support from progressive funding agents who see potential in more inclusive preservation policy.
Spark Conversations in Place
While this initiative focuses on systemic policy change, there is also value in discrete acts that disrupt the status quo. Occupying and reclaiming space, even if only temporarily, can give voice to counternarratives and underrepresented publics. Creating report cards for heritage sites and measuring indicators of inclusion in narratives, programming, and operations could activate change across cities and states. Building bridges with K–12 schools and other institutions dedicated to public education can further help to amplify more inclusive conversations in and about local sites. Such cooperation can also help develop civic fluency about heritage and about how place-based narratives shape our understanding of self and community.
The modern American preservation movement has often been characterized as a David-and-Goliath tale: a populist wave of neighborhood activists mobilizing against rational planning paradigms and greedy real estate development interests.1 This origin story promulgates an image of preservation as an inherently inclusive and socially oriented practice.
In parallel to this on-the-ground advocacy narrative, preservation theory was shifting in the second half of the twentieth century. While notions of the “inherent” value of heritage had long underpinned preservation practice, the 1980s saw a move toward understanding heritage as a social construct. Scholars increasingly recognized that the way people think about and engage with the past changes over time.2 Preservation was also increasingly understood to serve social functions in the present and to be fundamentally connected to questions of power.3
These theoretical shifts manifested in various forms of preservation policy and practice, especially through greater recognition of the ways in which different communities and stakeholders ascribe value to heritage. In particular, Australia ICOMOS’s Burra Charter, first adopted in 1979 and revised several times since, represented an early application of this broadened thinking to policy.4 The notion that different stakeholders may value a place in myriad, incommensurable, and sometimes incompatible ways has become an established theme of heritage literature.5 In practice, greater recognition of vernacular heritage and cultural landscapes underscores the inextricable links between people and the environment in which they live.6 Such approaches challenge the field’s focus on material integrity, instead emphasizing the significance of the relationships between people and place, and of the social and political meaning of these relationships.7
Our research initiative, Urban Heritage, Sustainability, and Social Inclusion, seeks to explore how an evolving understanding of these social dimensions is playing out in urban preservation policy in the United States. To do so, this endeavor and this literature review examine the topic through the lens of social inclusion.
In the social sciences—outside the core of heritage literature—social inclusion is referenced broadly in discussions of immigration and integration, neighborhood diversity and affordability, economic regeneration, wellness and mental health, and access to political power. In fact, inclusion is most frequently defined in the literature by its opposite: the exclusion of people and groups from participation in economic, social, political, and cultural life.8 This exclusion has been extensively explored in cultural studies, which has established that because cultural identities are varied, relational, and interconnected, social exclusion exists at the intersection of multiple marginalities.9 The recognition of differences in social power has been central to this discussion.
Within the body of literature focused more directly on heritage, researchers have found that the desire for social inclusion is widely discussed in practice10 but that the term is used to convey a variety of inexactly defined ideas and infrequently addresses fundamental issues of power.11 While there is broad agreement that heritage has a role to play in fostering social inclusion, the “how” of this role is unevenly conceptualized.12 This literature review finds that discussions of how heritage can foster social inclusion generally fall into three broad categories:
• representing diverse narratives and communities through preservation;
• engaging multiple publics in preservation decision-making; and
• promoting inclusive outcomes for communities through preservation.
Just as the concept itself is unevenly defined, social inclusion is not well or explicitly represented in much of the preservation discourse. Thus, the following review is as much about identifying gaps in the research as it is about charting what does exist. Likewise, while this broader research initiative focuses on municipal-level policy, the review investigates the discourse writ large—in the United States and internationally—as well as at varying levels of governance (municipal, national, and global). Similarly, much of the heritage discussion around social inclusion is dealt with in practice-based case studies, so this review also extends beyond the academic and into advocacy-based discourse and gray literature in order to probe the intersection of preservation and social inclusion in different ways.
—REPRESENTING DIVERSE NARRATIVES
Whose narratives are being represented?
As cities around the world grow and diversify, heritage literature has begun to interrogate prevailing narratives. While this interrogation has some presence in scholarly research, it is more evident in preservation practice. The standard preservation tool of designation or listing has increasingly been challenged in its ability to equitably represent communities. The literature has recognized the underrepresentation of non-Western sites on the World Heritage List13 and of nonwhite, nonmale historical narratives on the National Register of Historic Places in the United States.14 Some have noted that the dominance of the Western, white experience in cultural heritage theory also has implications for preservation policy, as regulations of the built environment can reinforce dominant cultures and perpetuate exclusion.15
The call for greater narrative diversity is reflected more explicitly in practice through efforts to recognize, designate, and preserve sites related to underrepresented histories. Prominent examples exist at the federal level in the United States, where the National Park Service has directed funding toward the identification of “Civil Rights” sites and the creation of “theme studies” related to the history of certain marginalized groups.16 The National Park Service’s National Women’s Landmarks Project partnered with national history organizations to increase the small percentage of National Historic Landmarks related to the contributions of women.17 The National Trust for Historic Preservation, the country’s largest preservation advocacy organization, has embarked on similar campaigns and recently created the $25 million African American Cultural Heritage Action Fund. Descriptions of similar initiatives at the local and regional levels are prominent in the literature, highlighting examples of communities pushing for their stories to be recognized in broader narratives.
The additive approach of preservation
Public historians have long asserted that we do not all understand the past in the same way and that collective memory is shaped by those with power and resources.18 Yet the infrastructure that has been built up around preservation policy suggests that objective decision-making is possible and that those decisions can be permanent.19 Thus, existing cadres of landmarks frequently include sites that ignore, confuse, or minimize the histories of marginalized people. In his book on American memorials, Kenneth Foote notes that this legacy necessitates “altering existing traditions to make enough room for new meanings.”20
Many scholars have examined how established historic places, like historic house museums, battlefields, and designated landmarks, attempt to challenge these legacies by incorporating new stories.21 The most prominent section of this literature addresses the distortion and silencing of the history of American slavery. But reinterpretation remains an unproven route to representational justice. Case studies of initiatives to excavate, research, and share experiences of slavery at Mount Vernon and Monticello, two sites associated with American founding fathers, have been charged; the initiatives have been met with a mix of enthusiasm, distrust, and rejection from visitors.22 Analysis of historical markers in North Carolina and Virginia determined that, despite recent additions of more contextualizing markers, these official, sometimes state-sponsored markers still largely ignore or minimize the history of slavery and the contributions of enslaved people.23 The literature in this area supports Foote’s assertion that “once consecrated, sites do not always give way easily to revision” and questions the possibility that traditional preservation can induce a radical shift in prevailing narratives.24
Considering a subtractive approach
Heritage practice typically reflects an additive approach: more stories, more sites, more designations. Some have challenged this accumulation of heritage and its ability to solve questions of spatial justice and instead have suggested that it bestows the responsibility to care for past biases on future generations.25 Though many have urged the field to explore the social value of loss, destruction, and alteration, a subtractive approach to heritage has rarely been addressed in preservation literature or in
Where it has been raised, the potential for removal has centered primarily on contested monuments and memorials, notably with memorials related to the American Confederacy, Nazi Germany, and South African
apartheid.27 Despite theoretical shifts in understanding heritage as a construct that serves a social function, nonprofit and professional organizations are still reticent to align themselves with the destruction of landmarks. Recently, national-level organizations have asserted equivocating views, supporting the legitimacy of removal as an option for offensive memorials without taking positions on individual cases.28 Within scholarly research, memorial intervention has been more readily addressed in the fields of anthropology and geography. These fields have more directly discussed the concepts of spatial justice and symbolic power, recognizing that spatial markers can perpetuate legacies of oppression.29
Because historical narrative “renews a claim to the truth,” understanding whose stories are told is critically important for the heritage field.30 It is well established in sociology and media studies that social representation—seeing yourself and your experiences in popular and historical narratives—affects individual development.31 On a collective level, the omission of the contributions of whole groups—people of color, women, immigrants, and LGBTQ people, for example—from national narratives serves to bolster the illusion of white, patriarchal supremacy. Including and valorizing neglected histories in public space is essential for the hard work of justice and reconciliation.32 These efforts face a difficult challenge, as structural and cultural forces have long excluded many of these groups from both property ownership and political participation on the basis of race, ethnicity, and identity. While this area of research deserves much more attention, some heritage scholars have noted that designation requirements generally rely on strict material integrity and architectural style criteria that fail to compensate for this exclusion.33
From the perspective of architectural history, Robert Weyeneth describes the physical, built, and lasting examples of American segregation policy, which led to the duplication, division, and manipulation of buildings.34 While Weyeneth concludes that examples of such distinctive architectural styles (such as duplicate phone booths in Oklahoma or separate entrances in a train station in North Carolina) should be preserved as a visual, public reminder of this de jure segregation, legal scholar Sarah Schindler argues that discriminatory architecture is a form of regulation itself that should be subject to nondiscrimination laws.35 Though these authors examine different architectural forms, when taken together their two perspectives highlight a tension between the desire to be candid about American history and the need to redress the exclusion these places may perpetuate.
— ENGAGING DIVERSE PUBLICS
Preservation literature has noticeably shifted away from a curatorial perspective, wherein heritage is seen as a “thing” under the purview of “experts,” and toward recognizing heritage as a process in which everyone can engage.36 This shift is linked to urban planning literature on participation and community engagement in the built environment, particularly in the post-1960s, post-urban renewal era, and to the emergence of international heritage instruments like the Burra Charter.37 The theoretical movements of the twentieth century challenged the long-held, privileged position of heritage “experts” and illuminated the need for preservation decision-making to include a wider range of stakeholders—with more community input, a broader scope of professional disciplines, and a greater diversity of practitioners. However, this literature related to civic participation within the heritage field remains underdeveloped, and trends in practice must be gleaned largely from individual case studies.
While there is a general recognition of the need for more participatory heritage practices, the literature that elucidates how this plays out in the field is extremely limited. The question of who participates is still largely unanswered. A notable exception comes from recent findings that in New York City, interest in preservation tends to come from whiter, older, and wealthier people, who are primarily concerned with physically oriented aesthetic and associative values.38 There has also been little research on the diversity of heritage practitioners themselves, though this is a critical area of concern. Antoinette Lee, a historian with the National Park Service, was one of the first to argue that the preservation field needs to “look like America.”39 Demographic information on practitioners is scarce, though Keilah Spann notes that people of color accounted for only 10 percent of degrees awarded in historic preservation graduate programs in 2014.40 In suggesting the unlikelihood “that a place shaped by a select few will fully work to benefit everyone,” Justin Moore asserts that the profession needs to reflect the diversity of the country and observes that the problem is not being addressed “at the scale necessary to make meaningful impact.”41 The scarcity of demographic information about those engaging in preservation activities—as concerned citizens, students, volunteers, or practitioners—raises the question of whether an increase in narrative diversity is being conflated with participatory diversity.
The power of heritage to fundamentally contribute to more inclusive, participatory practices, rather than the reverse, is also an underdeveloped area of research. Without making the specific connection to preservation, scholars have begun to get at this potential in literature on oral history and other forms of “memory work.” This research has established that oral histories can reveal connections to places where physical evidence cannot,42 elicit information that subverts dominant narratives,43 and contextualize tensions between competing values.44 Leonie Sandercock hits on the dialogical power of heritage in asserting that such memory work is critical to the negotiation of values and identities necessary for creating inclusive cities.45 This negotiation is central to thinking around “conscious heritage,” in which so-called “sites of conscience” act as tools for “critically needed dialogue on contemporary issues” through facilitated reflection.46 Liz Ševčenko’s three urban case studies—the Tenement Museum in New York, Constitution Hall in Johannesburg, and Villa Grimaldi Peace Park in Santiago—provide examples of heritage places that foster participatory dialogue.47 A “conscious” approach to heritage has thus far been limited to places with active interpretative capacities, like museums or staffed heritage sites, but its potential application to the management of the historic built environment more broadly has not been examined.
Heritage literature more frequently includes case studies that illuminate the mechanics of balancing community engagement and expert assessment in cultural heritage management. An example from the Getty Conservation Institute is Grosse Île and the Irish Memorial National Historic Site in Canada, where the significance of the site as part of a national narrative of “hope and promise” clashed with its stature as a place of profound pain for Irish immigrants. Through public consultation, these multiple narratives emerged, and the management plan changed.48 This case study highlights how even thorough, well-intentioned expert research can fail to recognize the nuances of a place’s significance without meaningful stakeholder participation.
There is also a growing body of literature around the concept of cultural mapping, which is variably and broadly defined.49 Within preservation literature, the focus has been on practice-based cases that use cultural mapping as a means of eliciting values or community engagement. This is exemplified by the analysis of projects like Missouri Places Stories, which asked residents in St. Louis to make photo stories at meaningful places in their neighborhood. The analysis found that while participants did value many sites officially recognized as “historic,” they typically voiced personal, rather than historical, associations with these places in explaining their significance.50 As a collective, these represent a form of empirical research that has not been richly interconnected or examined robustly in the scholarly literature.
Some municipal governments have engaged in similar initiatives with specific public purposes in mind. The City of Los Angeles embarked on a decade-long effort to survey the entire city. In addition to employing trained field surveyors to assess all five hundred square miles of the city, the project involved extensive community outreach, most notably through an online platform, MyHistoricLA, where anyone could submit a significant place to the survey. While inclusion in the inventory does not come with any of the legal protections of historic designation, SurveyLA was explicitly created to inform land use decisions.51 In a similar effort, the University of Texas at Austin School of Architecture developed an online tool to help the City of Austin’s planning department democratize the preservation process and identify resources that were more reflective of community sentiment. Ultimately, this tool exposed tensions between the material-oriented views of experts and the information that community members wanted to contribute; it also revealed strong mutual distrust between the city and residents of the historically black and Hispanic neighborhood in which the project was piloted.52
Perhaps most importantly, the University of Texas team noted that while the data was crowdsourced, “the solutions to how one might preserve a place are not.”53 This point rings true across the literature. There are many innovative efforts to democratize the process of preservation, particularly with the emergence of creative place-making and asset-based planning approaches. But they have been limited largely to the consultation of and engagement with communities to share their stories and identify significant places, while the ultimate power to decide how these stories are used remains in the hands of experts. As Sarah James argues in her examination of Aboriginal participation in Sydney planning processes, it is not enough to solicit community involvement; this involvement must also extend to decision-making.54 A recent study from the related field of museum conservation found that while public consultation was common, conservators rarely relied on public input when making decisions.55 This suggests that public participation in the heritage field still generally falls below the level of true “citizen power” described in Sherry Arnstein’s seminal model of community participation.56 While compelling examples may exist in practice, very little has been published on shared decision-making or full citizen control over how to preserve.
A related area of research challenges the predominant modes of preservation practice, arguing that the field fails to address the needs of many communities and does not offer a broad enough range of choices on how to preserve. After years of vocal criticism from Native American tribes about the limited definition of heritage in the 1966 National Historic Preservation Act (NHPA), the National Park Service published Keepers of the Treasures in 1990. This report affirmed the need for tribal agency in preservation processes and for understanding “preservation as the perpetuation of lifeways as opposed to the protection of artifacts.”57 Incremental policy changes followed, including the creation of traditional cultural properties as a property type on the National Register and the establishment of Tribal Historic Preservation Offices to carry out the responsibilities of State Historic Preservation Offices on tribal land. But as previously mentioned, scholars continue to raise concerns that the field’s focus on material integrity, especially in terms of designation criteria at both the local and the national level, inhibits the recognition of significant heritage, especially for marginalized communities.58 Others have called for a broadening of the preservation toolbox beyond the confines of designation, encouraging the search for new policy tools for heritage
work.59 Many hope that preservation practitioners will see themselves as facilitators of a process rather than as experts, arguing that the focus should be on the relationships between people and their environments.60
Two encouraging developments in this arena come from publications by leading global conservation authorities. The Getty Conservation Institute’s 2016 report on heritage conflict resolution presented research on the challenges and possibilities of employing consensus-building techniques in heritage management planning. The report acknowledges that because “heritage engages with human feelings and identities,” it is rife with the potential for conflict.61 Echoing calls to define preservation more in terms of facilitation, it argues that conflict management techniques should be within the preservationist’s skill set. In a similar vein, the International Center for the Study of the Preservation and Restoration of Cultural Property (ICCROM) published an extensive report on sharing conservation decisions, a compilation of twenty-four essays by heritage professionals on how experts and nonexperts can make decisions about preservation together.62 The essays are exploratory, however, and only begin to chart how stakeholders can exercise more agency in decisions about their heritage.
Authors from a variety of other disciplines remind us that many of the themes discussed in this review have much longer histories. Suleiman Osman has looked at the history of gentrification, specifically in New York City, noting that it is far from a new phenomenon.63 Other historians have sought to shine a light on the spaces of marginalized groups throughout American history, with an emphasis on their agency and contributions to planning, the built environment, and political action. Authors like Angel David Nieves, Leslie Alexander, Marta Gutman, and Andrea Roberts remind us that marginalized communities have always taken place-based collective action in resistance to state-backed oppression.64 As bell hooks explains, it is precisely because of this ability of place to foster community organizing that the spaces of Black Americans, ethnic minorities, immigrants, and other groups on the margins have been “subject to violation and destruction.”65
Power and human rights
The preservation field has continued to be pushed toward a greater understanding of the importance of people’s agency within the heritage process. The 2005 Faro Convention departed from an earlier focus on guidelines for material conservation and instead focused on people, linking heritage to the “right to culture” enshrined in the UN Declaration of Human Rights. This human-rights approach touches on the importance of individual and community agency in heritage conservation but has limitations in terms of cultural relevance, power relationships, and enforceability.66 That said, significant connections have been drawn between human rights and indigenous cultural heritage and land rights, access to sacred sites, and the destruction of cultural heritage during
war.67 The importance of agency underpins much of the discussion of social inclusion in preservation, but the assertion of heritage rights has been used to both maintain and challenge the status quo, and it does not solve the aforementioned issue of power imbalances.
To more directly confront the question of equity, some emerging research advocates for developing a social justice framework for heritage work. Melissa Baird suggests that such an approach would be driven by an examination of structural power and would require heritage practitioners to ask questions like the following: “How is heritage mobilized in knowledge claims and identity creation? Are specific discourses or practices privileged in the name of safeguarding heritage? Are certain voices included or silenced?”68 Andrea Roberts similarly urges the field to contend with issues of power by “challenging preservation regulations that disproportionately exclude sites associated with marginalized communities.”69 She calls on preservationists to listen to those living on the margins, to engage with social activists, and to recognize the interconnections of various social and spatial problems. Because “heritage practitioners unavoidably work with, perpetuate, and have the potential to change [social] inequalities,” the question of power is increasingly and necessarily being raised in preservation literature.70
— UNDERSTANDING EFFECTS ON COMMUNITIES
Several decades of preservation policy now allow for reflection on and assessment of its outcomes. Beyond evaluating the inclusivity of preserved narratives or preservation practices, an emerging area of literature seeks to understand how communities are affected by preservation decisions. Underpinning this question is a fundamental split in the characterization of the impacts of preservation policy. Some authors see preservation policy as a progressive tool for fostering social inclusion, cultural identity, and civic participation, one that can work in tandem with community development and promote equity. Others see it as a regressive tool that addresses neither social needs for better housing and infrastructure nor the conditions of multicultural societies, ultimately giving social elites control over space.71 This area of the research is still very much ongoing, but certain threads—and gaps—have emerged, ranging from the role of theory in promulgating exclusionary preservation policies, to empirical studies of community benefits, to preservation’s intersection with education and public welfare.
“Critical heritage studies” explores inclusion issues theoretically, finding that Western ideologies have underpinned the creation of international policy and institutions to the exclusion of other ways of knowing. Laurajane Smith calls this phenomenon the “Authorized Heritage Discourse” (AHD) and identifies its roots in European, Enlightenment-era ideas about modernity that were propagated through colonialism and imperialism. AHD is visible in heritage work that relies on “experts” who identify the “usual suspects” as significant, focus on material conservation “for future generations,” and advance “Western elite cultural values” as universal values.72 Researchers have noted that this dominant, self-referential discourse limits who has decision-making authority about heritage, does not easily recognize forms of heritage that are not bound to material, and separates the past from the present in a way that does not allow for active, current engagement. Many argue that the mold set by AHD constrains attempts to recognize new narratives, represent pluralist societies, and broaden participation in heritage processes.73
Socioeconomics and gentrification
While much empirical research has intended to evaluate the outcomes of preservation policy, it has largely been advocacy driven, seeking to rationalize and support preservation as a way to provide community-wide economic benefits.74 Early studies sought to rebuff arguments opposing preservation policy as an economic constraint that limits development and hurts property values and to recast it as a positive community program with value that can be measured in monetary terms.75 As urban contexts change, many cities are increasingly concerned about housing affordability and the displacement of lower-income residents. In this light, preservation has more frequently been viewed as a contributor to rising housing costs and as a regulatory tool that gives outsize control to a small, powerful elite. The field has thus been increasingly compelled to explore preservation’s effects on communities, especially in connection to questions of gentrification. The term “gentrification” here describes intense urban demographic changes that may produce some social benefits but are also associated with displacement (direct and indirect) and the loss of heritage, sense of place, and community cohesion.76 The relationship between preservation policy, particularly designation, and gentrification remains the subject of debate.
While qualitative research has revealed that residents often connect preservation and gentrification in their own experiences, empirical research linking the two is limited and has produced mixed findings.77 In a recent study of New York City historic districts, Brian McCabe and Ingrid Gould Ellen found that neighborhoods with historic districts see an average increase in socioeconomic status after designation, in comparison to other neighborhoods.78 In Los Angeles, Karolina Gorska identified changes in economic status, racial composition, or both in 45 percent of the city’s neighborhoods with Historic Preservation Overlay Zones when compared with other neighborhoods—but did not directly identify designation as the cause of these changes.79
Beyond the specific question of gentrification, some research has addressed preservation’s community benefits by looking at the positive characteristics of old and historic neighborhoods. The National Trust’s research arm found that older, smaller buildings were more likely to house women- and minority-owned businesses,80 and Douglas Appler notes that low-income housing in National Register districts tends to be closer to amenities, like libraries and transit, than nondesignated districts.81 Importantly, these studies do not evaluate the outcomes of preservation policy; rather, they highlight some of the ways older buildings and neighborhoods might contribute positively to cities.
Spatial justice and public access
The focus on gentrification in heritage literature masks a much larger, significant gap in the research. Many decades of discriminatory urban development and housing policies have variously reinforced or introduced intense spatial segregation in American cities, and this segregation has been ossified in the landscape.82 But there has been little examination of how preservation policy might challenge or, in fact, sustain this history of publicly enforced spatial injustice. For example, the literature has not yet tied monument removal to larger discussions around dismantling the legacies of exclusion that may be maintained through preservation policy and action.
The notion of accessibility in preservation has typically been addressed at the site level and in terms of physical access83 or access to information.84 It has rarely been investigated at the municipal or state level or in terms of the public’s right to access designated places. Exceptions are the work of legal scholars who have challenged the lack of public access to interior landmarks in New York City85 and the use of public investment (in the form of historic preservation tax credits) for private property projects.86 Preservation policy is enacted with the expectation of public benefit; thus, the question of public access to designated properties is an important one that has, so far, been largely unexplored.
Heritage, culture, and community health
The contribution of arts and culture to cities and countries has been widely researched and typically includes heritage. In the United Kingdom, the Arts and Humanities Research Council undertook a project to understand the impact of the arts and culture on society. Relevant to the question of social inclusion, the council suggests that engagement with culture can provide “‘rehearsal-type’ situations where we can practice our moral responses.”87 The Urban Institute looks to participation in arts and culture as an indicator of cultural vitality and demonstrates that cultural vitality is characterized differently in different places.88 These findings are interesting but difficult to instrumentalize for preservation, since heritage work is not specifically addressed within the broad definition of culture. However, this literature can serve as a model for preservation-focused research.89
The relationship between heritage and health is another area of developing research, much of which is still considered under the larger umbrella of culture. The Institute of Cultural Capital is researching the contributions of cultural assets to mental health and well-being.90 Mark Stern and the University of Pennsylvania’s Social Impact of the Arts Program looked at this question of well-being in New York City neighborhoods, finding that “cultural assets are part of a neighborhood ecology that promotes wellbeing.”91 In Europe, a couple of case studies show promise for the heritage field’s specific contribution to emotional well-being.92 In the public health arena, the relationship between place and community health is increasingly central. Though some have suggested that historic environments have a role to play in this discussion, little research within a heritage context has addressed questions of health.93
Heritage and education
That preserved places impart lessons in the present is such a fundamental tenet of the field that it goes largely unspoken. The literature reflects many claims about the educational value of historic sites and heritage work more broadly, and education and public welfare are the most frequently cited rationales in municipal preservation ordinances.94 While discrete case studies have examined visitor learning at historic sites, very little research supports these broad educational claims.95 Kevin Myers and Ian Grosvenor explain that while heritage has the potential to be educational, learning does not happen passively; instead, it requires active participants who have a desire to learn and are compelled to reflect.96 Because the educational value of historic preservation is so frequently claimed, this is an area of research that sorely requires more attention.
— SOCIAL INCLUSION IN HERITAGE DISCOURSE
The available literature suggests that the need to represent diverse narratives and engage communities in heritage work is increasingly well recognized, even if practice and policy have not yet fully shifted to accommodate these changing perspectives. Much less research has been dedicated to the methods employed to promote inclusive engagement and to probing the outcomes of this engagement and of preservation policy writ large.
This review has identified several underdeveloped areas of research within the preservation discourse. While a large portion of the literature addresses the need for greater diversity in the narratives under preservation’s purview, there has been limited exploration of how policy tools might evolve in order to achieve this diversity. For example, there is little discussion about how designation—a primary tool of preservation—may need to change. While there is support for listing more diverse sites, there is little research into how to redress the legacies of imbalance in lists and listing processes. The literature suggests that there is no real dialogue in the United States around quotas, caps, delisting, or other means of furthering equality and/or affirmative action in list representation. Discussions of narrative diversity have also only superficially explored effects on communities. How increased narrative diversity might confront exclusive attitudes at the individual and structural level remains an open question, and one that warrants empirical study in order to ensure the effectiveness of policy.
The literature reveals a push to make preservation practice more participatory, but it has not explored the question of “who participates” and “who decides” beyond individual case studies. A greater understanding of nonpreservationists’ agency within the heritage process could come from studying participation at the municipal scale or practices across the field. Jane Henderson and Tanya Nakamoto’s study of decision-making in museum conservation offers a useful model for this kind of research.97 There is a broad need to explore participation in preservation in terms of power and social agency.
The lack of research into inclusive outcomes is one of the biggest gaps in preservation research, particularly as it relates to issues of ossified spatial injustice in urban landscapes. Despite the significant expansion of preservation policy infrastructure across the United States over the last half century, there is a dearth of research on the distributive effects—social, economic, and environmental—of preservation policy in relation to inclusion and equity.
Furthermore, as the effects of climate change continue to intensify, environmental changes will put more pressure on existing social, political, and spatial inequalities. This growing crisis further compels the preservation field to engage with questions of inclusive outcomes in a robust, evidence-based, and sustained way.
This review makes clear that there is an ever-present need for the preservation field to change—in order to remain relevant, to right historic and persistent wrongs, or to contribute to a broader coalition of progressive social movements. A growing discourse in the realm of critical heritage studies explores inequities in the conceptual underpinnings of preservation practice, and many individual projects seek to challenge such inequities with innovative approaches. But the literature is limited in the realm of evidence-based policy reform. A fair amount of heritage research is advocacy driven, seeking to counter the aforementioned critiques and effectively preserve the policy status quo. Less attention has been paid to how governance and institutional structures can adapt in light of new knowledge and emerging needs around these questions of inclusion.