Socioeconomic Neighborhood Change In Local Historic Districts Of Large American Cities, 1970-2010: A Mixed Methods Approach

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Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)
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case studies
cluster analysis
historic preservation
local historic districts
mixed methods
socioeconomic neighborhood change
Urban Studies and Planning
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Stanek, David J

Throughout the United States, cities and communities use local historic district designation to preserve sites, streets, and neighborhoods they value. Recent population gains and increased inequality in America’s largest cities have placed increased scrutiny on the relationship of local historic districts to socioeconomic neighborhood change. Critics argue that local historic districts tend to gentrify, and district regulations are used as a pretext for wealthy communities to exclude the poor. District advocates argue that they stabilize or increase the value of neighborhoods, afford communities greater control over their neighborhood’s development, and provide protection from the highs and lows of the real estate market. Both positions are true, but to what extent is a question that remains understudied. This dissertation substantiates this debate with an analysis of how neighborhoods change in locally designated historic districts and how communities understand, utilize, and incorporate local historic district designation in neighborhood planning. The study uses a two-phase, explanatory case-selection mixed-method design to test the two underlying hypotheses: 1) the socioeconomic composition of neighborhoods designated as local historic districts change differently than non-designated neighborhoods, and 2) contemporary and anticipated outcomes of neighborhood change are a central consideration when communities make decisions about local district designation. The first phase of the dissertation examines trends of socioeconomic neighborhood change in 642 local historic districts in 42 large American cities between 1970 and 2010 using partitional cluster and longitudinal sequence analyses. The second phase documents the role of local district designation in two case studies: Ohio City in Cleveland, OH and Dupont Circle in Washington, DC. The research finds that lower socioeconomic status neighborhoods designated as local historic districts tend to change more often than higher socioeconomic status neighborhoods and that lower socioeconomic status neighborhoods trend toward higher socioeconomic status neighborhoods. However, the shift in socioeconomic status is not necessarily linked to designation. It also finds that historic district designation can be an effective community strategy to manage socioeconomic neighborhood change in the short-term. However, because they regulate only the physical features of neighborhoods, they are ineffective at managing longer-term socioeconomic neighborhood change.

Randall F. Mason
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