New Research: Cultural Heritage and the Risk of Displacement in African American Neighborhoods

By Mike Powe posted 07-25-2018 14:22


The National Trust for Historic Preservation’s Research & Policy Lab is launching a major new study about the connections between preservation, affordability, and risk of displacement in historically African American neighborhoods in 10 cities across the United States. Supported through the African American Cultural Heritage Action Fund (AACHAF), this study will examine how the physical character of neighborhoods, buildings, and blocks may influence changes to the social character of neighborhoods. In light of growing concerns about housing affordability in cities, the study will focus on the value of older and historic buildings in supporting livability, affordability, and inclusivity in historically African American neighborhoods.

The "Cultural Heritage and Risk of Displacement in African American Neighborhoods" research project will include case studies from each of the 10  cities, including the East Parkside neighborhood of Philadelphia. | Credit: Julia Cohen, Philadelphia Research Fellow

Research Process

The “Cultural Heritage and Risk of Displacement in African American Neighborhoods” study will make use of the expertise in statistical modeling, spatial mapping, and policy analysis that the Research & Policy Lab has established through previous studies—including ones that linked older buildings and blocks to higher social, economic, and environmental resilience. The study will analyze 10 cities with significant African American history and populations: Atlanta; Birmingham, Alabama; Chicago; Los Angeles; Louisville, Kentucky; New York; Oakland, California; Philadelphia; St. Louis; and Washington, D.C.

The study will document economic, demographic, and real estate changes in these cities between 2000 and 2016 and assess how building age, development and demolition trends, and other aspects of the built environment may have influenced these changes. National Trust researchers will then focus on whether and how the changes play out differently in historically African American neighborhoods. A team of AACHAF research fellows from colleges and universities across the country will conduct neighborhood-specific case studies in each city to complement the statistical analyses. These case studies will depict what these changes look like on the ground with greater nuance, thus adding depth to the findings, uncovering new information about neighborhood change, and providing context for some of the questions raised by the statistical models.

Birmingham, Alabama, is one of the study cities in the new "Cultural Heritage and Risk of Displacement in African American Neighborhoods" research project. | Credit: Mark Sandlin

Project Team

This study is being led by the Research & Policy Lab’s Director of Research Dr. Mike Powe and Research Manager Carson Hartmann. Jenna Dublin, a doctoral student at Columbia University’s School of Architecture, Planning, and Preservation, is serving as the project’s research manager and a member of the core research team.

The Research & Policy Lab has assembled a group of advisers with expertise in planning, preservation, and neighborhood change to assist in the development of the research questions and methodology, examine our findings, and identify opportunities for future work. This advisory team consists of:

  • Caryn Bell, African American Studies Department, University of Maryland;
  • Karen Chapple, Carmel P. Friesen Chair in Urban Studies, University of California, Berkeley;
  • Lance Freeman, School of Architecture, Planning, and Preservation, Columbia University;
  • Stephanie Ryberg-Webster, Maxine Goodman Levin College of Urban Affairs, Cleveland State University;
  • Eric Shaw, director, DC Office of Planning;
  • Emily Talen, professor of urbanism, University of Chicago; and
  • Miriam Zuk, director of the University of California, Berkeley’s Urban Displacement Project.

Additionally, the research fellows supporting this project are a stellar group of students and recent graduates, including:

  • Atlanta: Akilah Favors, sociology Ph.D. student, University of California, Berkeley;
  • Birmingham: Jeran Herbert, urban and regional planning master’s student, Alabama A&M University;
  • Chicago: Ni’Shele Jackson, American studies and Spanish undergraduate senior student, Wellesley College;
  • Los Angeles: Kaelyn Rodriguez, Chicana/o/x studies Ph.D. student, University of California, Los Angeles;
  • Louisville: Shaonta’ Allen, sociology Ph.D. student, University of Cincinnati;
  • New York: Emily Junker, master’s student in urban planning and historic preservation master’s student, Columbia University;
  • Oakland: Stephanie Jones, sociology Ph.D. student, University of California, Irvine;
  • Philadelphia: Julia Cohen, historic preservation and city planning master’s student, University of Pennsylvania;
  • Louis: TK Smith, American studies master’s degree recent graduate, St. Louis University;
  • Washington, D.C.: Theodore Wilhite, law student, University of the District of Columbia.

Deliverables and Future Work

This study is intended to advance national conversations around affordability, displacement, equitable development, and reinvestment—particularly in cities with significant African American history and culture. It will inform the National Trust’s ongoing work with preservation partners, community development organizations, neighborhood advocates, policymakers, lenders, and real estate developers to advance solutions for cities seeking to conserve the cultural heritage of older neighborhoods, encourage building reuse, and provide opportunities for all residents. Initial findings will be shared for discussion with key thought leaders, policymakers, and researchers at PastForward 2018 in San Francisco. A full report, including maps, statistics, and case studies, will be published in early 2019.

Mike Powe is the director of research at the National Trust for Historic Preservation’s Research & Policy Lab. He is based in Seattle.