Between a Rock and a Historic Place: Preservation in Postindustrial Urban Planning
Long-term population loss is recognized as a major challenge in older industrial cities throughout the Rust Belt, marked by widespread vacant and abandoned properties. Policies and programs at every conceivable level are attempting to address how to "rightsize" cities: how to transform them into physically smaller places with a higher quality of life. Yet historic preservation is rarely included. This thesis asserts that preservation can contribute an essential perspective to reshaping cities by helping articulate their unique identity—an integral part of cities' efforts to redefine themselves for brighter futures, retain population, improve the quality of life, and attract new businesses and residents. It attempts to articulate a role for the field in rightsizing by outlining its absence in the literature review, recognizing programs in other fields that build on existing resources, and recommending an approach to reshaping cities that explicitly draws on preservation. The thesis explores how city planners, preservationists, and community development organizations in seven older industrial cities are using preservation to inform strategic demolition, targeted reinvestment, and broad planning efforts. Case studies include code enforcement in Cincinnati, investment in stable neighborhoods in Cleveland, homeownership programs in Detroit, land banking in Flint/Genesee County and Cuyahoga County, historic resource surveys in Philadelphia, preservation advocacy in Saginaw, and proactive municipally-led preservation in Syracuse. Finally, the thesis proposes an expanded role for preservation in making all cities stronger, more viable places to live and work.