Theses Master's

Neighborhood Conservation Districts: An Assessment of Typologies, Effectiveness and Community Response

Yeston, Max Abraham

Neighborhood Conservation Districts (NCDs), a preservation planning tool, have proven to be a valuable approach to neighborhood preservation, and are expanding in their scope. This is significant to planning since it is a land use device intended to combat market pressures in many cases by preventing out-of-scale luxury housing. The strategy gives communities the opportunity to have a more active say in how their neighborhoods are shaped without having the physical identity of their surroundings be determined by market-based, Euclidean zoning, and without the sometimes more onerous rules of historic districts. From a preservation standpoint, an NCD is appropriate for neighborhoods that might not merit traditional historic designation, either because the building stock is not old enough, or the original built fabric has been compromised by extensive alterations. There are three basic types of NCD: the historic preservation model, which uses preservation-based design review processes and guidelines, and the neighborhood planning model, which relies more on zoning techniques and is often part of a comprehensive plan. The third ‘hybrid’ type gives individual districts the ability to choose the degree of design review. Building on previous studies that have taken a comprehensive look at the wide range of NCDs throughout the U.S., this thesis takes a deeper, more focused look at examples in three cities (Cambridge, Massachusetts; Raleigh, North Carolina; and Philadelphia, Pennsylvania), each with different criteria and design regulations. In this current assessment of how specific NCDs are performing now, the basic thesis questions are: are some NCDs meeting their self-expressed and explicit goals better than others? How do different standards of design review perform in different NCDs, and how do various community stakeholders view the effects of regulations (intended and unintended)? Through examining the views of various stakeholders on the ordinances against the language and intent of the laws themselves, the thesis evaluated whether NCDs are viewed as an effective preservation tool for areas that might not fit full historic designation requirements. Additionally, by taking into account the demographic and economic data for these particular neighborhoods, in combination with participants’ views, the study assesses any unintentional impacts of the different ordinances, and ascertains whether there is any room for improvement. It was discovered that officials and administrators had a more favorable view than residents. While it was assumed that property owners would be more receptive to planning-oriented conservation districts since there is typically less regulation of construction activities, the opposite turned out to be true, and homeowners in less regulated NCDs wanted more review.


  • thumnail for YestonMax_GSAPPUP_2014_Thesis.pdf YestonMax_GSAPPUP_2014_Thesis.pdf text/pdf 3.91 MB Download File

More About This Work

Academic Units
Urban Planning
Thesis Advisors
Clark, Carol A.
Irazabal Zurita, Clara E.
M.S., Columbia University
Published Here
July 10, 2014