Dr. W. Holmes
Poli 304 Seminar in Urban Problems
Gentrification or Economic Development
Historic preservation has traditionally been simply restoring historically significant architectural or geographical sites for aesthetic value or for the benefit of future generations to better understand the ways and styles of the past. As the National Trust for Historic Preservation explains, “when historic buildings and neighborhoods are torn down or allowed to deteriorate, a part of our past disappears forever. When that happens, we lose history that helps us know who we are, and we lose opportunities to live and work in the kinds of interesting and attractive surroundings that older buildings can provide” (NTHP web site).
Recently the use of historic preservation has also begun to be viewed by cities and towns as a means to economic development and urban renewal. According to advocates, historic preservation has aided in local economic and community revitalization, increased tourism and employment, and preserved regional history, culture, and pride. However, historic preservation has often lacked public support due to a negative reputation. Some see it, not as a means to revitalizing local communities, but rather, as simply driving the problems further under the surface or into other areas, namely, as a means to gentrification. This reputation is not entirely unfounded, as there have been instances when gentrification was exactly the intended goal.
There is a fundamental dichotomy and tension within economic development policies in general, and specifically with historic preservation, between the need to bring in wealthy residents and new businesses and the likelihood that it will drive out or alienate low to moderate-income local residents. Historic preservation will, of course, not work for every struggling area in the nation, but for those that can use it, alone or in conjunction with other methods of economic development it is important to recognize that the only way to have truly sustainable economic development and not simply economic growth at the expense of local community and quality of life issues is to find a balance between this dichotomy and accommodate all members of a community. Organizations such as the National Trust for Historic Preservation and the US department of Housing and Urban Development, and their state and local counterparts are currently emphasizing the benefits of historic preservation as a method of urban revitalization. According to Judith Kremen, Executive Director of the Baltimore County Historical Trust, historic preservation benefits local economies because it: “creates a bond between a community and its citizens; has significant and ongoing impact beyond the project itself; increases the demand for labor and increases business for local suppliers; is an effective economic development strategy, regardless of the size or location of a community, is an ideal economic development strategy for attracting and retaining small businesses; stabilizes neighborhoods and creates viable business districts; [and] effectively targets areas appropriate for public attention” (Kremen). It has also been connected to saving tax money by reusing buildings and infrastructure, conserving resources, preventing urban sprawl, revitalizing community centers, and can impact and encourage private investment in an area by “demonstrating public commitment to an area” (Kremen). These kinds of direct and indirect measurements of successful economic development are described by economic theorist, Laura A. Reese as “market perspective” “outcome” measurements, such as employment growth or sales increases, “social economy perspective” “outcome” measurements, such as income distribution or job security, and “social economy perspective” “impact” measurements such as life expectancy, literacy, or personal satisfaction with job and community (Reese). It is important that all of these...