A neighborhood can be filled with diversity, history, and culture, but urban regeneration and revitalization affects these aspects through embracing, ignoring, or replacing historical structures. Shrinking urban areas are often cursed with the demolition and replacement of structures, which results in cheaper new construction but also the elimination of heritages that are rich with historical value (Ryberg-Webster 10). Urban downtown areas that do not consider some form of development suffer stagnation and decay (Howell 556). Ignoring neighborhoods in a state of urban decay promotes condemnation, vacancy, an influx of crime, and eventual demolition of structures. These neighborhoods continue in a downward spiral that becomes unsafe for residents. Lastly, embracing history through preservation and renovation can revitalize neighborhoods in need of development. Urban developers and the public are predominantly supportive of historic preservation projects, but there are some who worry that it only gentrifies already-inhabited neighborhoods, displacing minorities and replacing them with white, middle class, educated people.
Support for preservation comes from many locations, but there are strings attached. The National Trust for Historic Preservation, the National Park Service, and state and local preservation societies all offer funding through grants for preservation (Ryber-Webster & Kinahan 119). However, most of America’s historic buildings are owned by private individuals, many of whom are low-income (Howell 544). Renovation is much more expensive than demolition and new construction, and historic societies have building requirements in order to get funding. Low-income property owners do not often know how to access the resources necessary to curb preservation costs. Property can only be altered for updating utilities or safety features, for example. Most architectural details are to be replaced or renovated with like materials. The benefit to this is that preservation truly recaptures the original architecture and cultural setting, giving the property more desirability (Coulson and Leichenko 1587).
Gentrification is a primary concern of residents in urban areas considered for revitalization. The rise in property values leads to a rise in property taxes, which the poor can assumedly not afford. The cost of living raises, which the poor can also not afford. Minority groups in low-income areas of urban decay claim they will be pushed out of their neighborhoods and replaced by middle-class white populations (Howell 554). Gentrification seems like a logical conclusion to the development of disparate neighborhoods.
This has not empirically been proven. In fact, the evidence is contrary to gentrification claims. Neighborhoods that have been preserved and revitalized do have an increase in their property values, but those who are not able to afford the simultaneous tax increases are not forced to trade it for another low-income neighborhood but can move to better neighborhoods in theory (Howell 559). In actuality there is no evidence of displacement. A study out of Fort Worth revealed very little to no displacement following urban revitalization (Coulson & Leichenko 1598). Other quantitative evidence has shown that the preservation of historic buildings in downtown neighborhoods has led to an increase in downtown home ownership, as opposed to vacancies, and an increase in racial and ethnic diversity. This has coincided with a positive influx of young, educated professionals, but it has not displaced minorities or low-income residents (Ryberg-Webster & Kinahan 126). The neighborhoods have improved both for new and old residents.
Embracing history, when economically and socially beneficial, is the best choice for urban regeneration and revitalization efforts. Instead of displacing long-term members of neighborhoods rich in diversity and heritage, it lifts those communities and has a positive impact on families in the form of reducing urban decay, which reduces crime, attracts new, young professionals, and maintains diverse cultures. Gentrification may be a reality in some circumstances, but overwhelmingly, the response to embracing history has been positive for both downtown, urban areas and their residents.
- Coulson, N. E., and Robin M. Leichenko. “Historic Preservation and Neighbourhood Change.” Urban Studies, vol. 41, no. 8, 2004, pp. 1587-1600, doi: 10.1080/0042098042000227028.
- Howell, Ryan. “Throw the “Bums” Out? A Discussion of the Effects of Historic Preservation Statutes on Low-Income Households through the Process of Urban Gentrification in Old Neighborhoods.” Journal of Gender, Race and Justice, vol. 11, no. 3, 2008, pp. 541.
- Ryberg-Webster, Stephanie. “Heritage amid an Urban Crisis: Historic Preservation in Cleveland, Ohio’s Slavic Village Neighborhood.” Cities, vol. 58, 2016, pp. 10-25, doi:10.1016/j.cities.2016.05.005.
- Ryberg-Webster, Stephanie, and Kelly L. Kinahan. “Historic Preservation and Urban Revitalization in the Twenty-First Century.” Journal of Planning Literature, vol. 29, no. 2, 2014, pp. 119-139, doi: 10.1177/0885412213510524.