Theses Master's

Redlining History: The Geographies of Historic Preservation

Foster, Katlyn M.

The social, economic, and environmental effects of landmark district designation are often cited in support of municipal preservation practices, but limited research has been done to support those claims. Where research has been done, it is often generalized across cities, disregarding the ways in which histories of inequitable urban policies have impacted communities and created geographies of privilege and disprivilege that might influence preservation efforts and impacts. This thesis examines the boundaries of designated historic districts in relationship to historic boundaries of redlining in order to contextualize preservation within historic and contemporary patterns of spatial privilege and disprivilege.

Using geospatial analysis techniques, the question of whether preservation designation, and its impacts and benefits, are distributed equitably among people and spaces is quantitatively examined. An initial analysis compares the proportionality of the percentage of redlined land areas in six cities to the percentage of designated land area within those redlining boundaries. An expanded analysis in two cities examined social and economic metrics – including population density, racial demographics, employment, and housing values – in historic districts in relationship to their encompassing geographies of privilege or disprivilege. In the case study cities, these analyses found that preservation designations are not achieving equitable representation of social groups, racially, economically, or spatially, and quantified those disparities over time.

This research highlighted the importance of new tools, used at the municipal level, to improve equity in preservation. The methodology developed and geospatial tools used present a potential means through which preservation agencies can examine the effects of their current policies and tools, supporting or challenging the claims made about preservation’s effects. It also suggests how this tool can be used to plan for more equitable future work.


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More About This Work

Academic Units
Historic Preservation
Thesis Advisors
Avrami, Erica C.
M.S., Columbia University
Published Here
July 2, 2021