PastForward Reading List: ReUrbanism

By Forum Online posted 09-27-2017 13:56


We are continuing our annual reading lists leading up to PastForward 2017. As always, they present curated videos, articles, and projects that we hope will spark discussions in Chicago come November 14–17. Register for the conference today!

At PastForward 2016 in Houston, the Preservation Green Lab team launched the Atlas of ReUrbanism. The National Trust’s ReUrbanism initiative focuses on supporting more diverse, equitable, and vibrant cities through the active, creative use of older and historic buildings. Using the Older, Smaller, Better methodology, the Atlas combines different kinds of existing data about urban built environments in interactive layered maps.


In “The Atlas of ReUrbanism: Buildings and Blocks in American Cities,” Margaret O’Neil explains in detail what the Atlas is and how it came to be. Carson Hartmann’s subsequent post describes how data are analyzed and presented in simple takeaway fact sheets about—thus far—50 cities nationwide.

Kyle Shelton uses the three components that underlie the Atlas’ “Character Score”—the median age of a city’s buildings, the diversity of its buildings’ ages, and the size of its buildings and/or parcels—to examine Chicago, Philadelphia, and Houston. He concludes that “Character Score helps make the case that preservation is an important part of an overall effort to create a sustainable approach to city building.” Writing about the Atlas for CityLab, Laura Bliss notes that “older neighborhoods tend to be much more dense than newer ones,” and hopes that future Atlas tools will include data thorough enough to show areas where “preserving old buildings can help boost affordability and density.”

One of last year’s reading lists examined National Trust president and CEO Stephanie Meeks’ book, The Past and Future City, co-authored with Kevin C. Murphy. In “How to Reinvent Historic Preservation,” Amanda Kolson Hurley compares and contrasts The Past and Future City with Max Page’s book Why Preservation Matters:

“Today, preservation no longer pits itself against the forces of philistinism, hoping to rescue architectural gems one by one and mothball them against the ravages of time. The new preservation movement cares about neighborhoods as much as individual buildings, and not just gussied-up districts like the French Quarter or Old Town Alexandria.”

Earlier this year Stephanie was interviewed by Kai Ryssdal of Marketplace. She discussed ReUrbanism and the benefits of reusing existing and historic buildings for contemporary purposes.

In her book Meeks advocates using existing tools, like “rent control, homeownership assistance, rehabilitation grant programs, zoning, historic districting, tax freezes,” to “stabilize communities without contributing to unwanted displacement.” Contemplating these tools, David Brown asserts that, contrary to what was laid out in the White House’s September 2016 Housing Development Toolkit, preservation is not an obstacle to affordable housing but rather an opportunity for its creation and maintenance. For example, the use of federal and state historic rehabilitation tax credits has aided in converting thousands of historic buildings into affordable housing.

Future Cities, Just Cities

PastForward 2017 will continue to examine the role of preservation in creating economically and environmentally sustainable, equitable, and healthy communities, beginning with the Future City Summit, sponsored by CityLab. The summit will explore how preservationists can work with a variety of partners from nontraditional preservation backgrounds—such as economic development, health and welfare, social justice, and cultural advocacy—to make communities livable and vibrant. The leading voice will be architectural designer and design justice advocate Bryan Lee Jr., an outspoken advocate of using design—and, by extension, preservation—as both protest and solution. Lee Jr. launched the Design Justice Platform in 2016. In this video from the 2016 SXSW Eco Conference Bryan and others discuss achieving a design that incorporates social justice into built environment through the lens of hip hop.

Economic Benefits

As previously mentioned, the long-standing federal historic tax credit (HTC) is an effective tool in the revitalization of historic neighborhoods, and PastForward 2017 will feature a number of Field Studies focused on the HTC. “Get in the Loop with Historic Tax Credits” will take participants on an exploratory walking tour of 33 HTC projects in Chicago, with a last stop at the Chicago Athletic Association Hotel, winner of last year’s Richard H. Driehaus Foundation National Preservation Award.

In “Four Ways to Fund Effective Economic Development In Your City,” the National League of Cities lists the HTC as one of programs most commonly used by cities. And in a blog post for Main Street America, John Leith-Tetrault analyzes the use—or lack of use—of the HTC in Ellicott City, Maryland, after a flash flood struck the city’s downtown.

A two-part Historic Real Estate convening at PastForward will offer participating community developers, municipalities, and historic preservation advocates various tools for acquiring, rehabilitating, and selling or renting historic real estate. In “The Measure of Success: Transforming Communities through Historic Properties Real Estate Programs,” Denise Gilmore connects with historic real estate project leaders from four successful preservation organizations. They share stories of creating affordable housing and cultural arts venues, encouraging healthy lifestyles, and providing access to nutritious food—all in an effort to stabilize neighborhoods.

 Public Housing

In 1998, a year before full implementation of Chicago’s Plan for Transformation—one of the nation’s largest redevelopments of public housing—Lakefront Properties was the first development to be demolished and the only one to be imploded. In his article for the fall 2015 Forum Journal, “The Right to the City” (pages 14–25), Jamie Kalven describes the Chicago Housing Authority erasing close to 350 acres of high-rise public housing in the following years, resulting in the loss of places that defined numerous communities. He asks: “Does historic preservation have any relevance to the experiences and priorities of those who struggle to remain visible in our cities and our democracy?”

We Call These Projects Home: Solving the Housing Crisis from the Ground Up” was published in 2010 by a coalition of community groups organizing to provide a unified response to gentrification and displacement. This is one of the first reports in which public housing residents and their advocates, in their own voices, call attention to how the public housing crisis affects them and suggest a way forward to preserve and improve their communities.

For close to a decade, the historic Julia C. Lathrop Homes have been a battleground due to Chicago Housing Authority plans to raze the buildings. A mixture of Lathrop residents and activists, preservation advocates, and neighborhood and public housing advocates have been pushing for the rehabilitation and thoughtful preservation of this 32-acre site. Hear what the Lathrop Homes mean to their residents.

In Redesigning Lathrop, Zach Motrice provides an in-depth analysis of the fight over Lathrop, stating that “Lathrop is shaping up to be one of Chicago’s most significant historic preservation victories. There are only a few examples of the CHA renovating its affordable housing developments, and the agency has never before attempted to transform one of its existing projects into a mixed-income community, and on such a massive scale.” At PastForward we will hear from stakeholders such as the members of Chicago Housing Authority, Lathrop Community Development Partners, and the Illinois SHPO as to how, after many years of combative community meetings, they have been able to negotiate a redevelopment plan they can all agree on.

Neighborhood Character and Transformations

Peter Moskowitz’s book—How to Kill a City: Gentrification, Inequality, and the Fight for the Neighborhood—presents gentrification crisis case studies of Detroit, San Francisco, New York, and post-Katrina New Orleans. That book is the focus of Gillian B. White’s essay in The Atlantic, which delves into the meaning and causes of gentrification. Agreeing with Moskovitz, White writes that “while gentrification naturally brings some improvements to a city, including more people and money, it also frequently kills some cultural traditions and diversity, the precise characteristics that make cities so dynamic and desirable in the first place.” She also supports Moskowitz’s premise that there should be more regulations mitigating the effects of gentrification. In a separate interview, Moskowitz explains that “there’s nothing innate about improvement that can be good for everyone, unless that improvement is coupled with protection.”

PastForward speaker Michael Schubert discusses neighborhood transformation in “Designing and Directing Neighborhood Change Efforts:  How to be More Intentional and Effective,” which he wrote as part of the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development Choice Neighborhood Resource Guide. Schubert focuses on why some revitalization approaches succeed while others fail and offers strategies to better understand the neighborhood context and shape outcomes. He will lead a conference session aimed at helping preservationists appreciate neighborhoods as markets and social systems, understand how they change for better or worse, and develop successful interventions.

We would be remiss not to mention National Main Street Center’s newest program, UrbanMain, which launched on September 14. It is based on 35 years of the center’s leadership in commercial district revitalization, which functions as a bridge in saving historic building stock and improving the quality of life in surrounding neighborhoods. UrbanMain offers economic development tools aimed at bringing sustainable growth back to traditional urban centers.

Additional Resources from CityLab

Resources from Forum

If you are participating in the PastForward Challenge (Gamification) for points and prizes, please enter the following passcode for the "Read: ReUrbanism" challenge: PLFURBAN.