Urban Renewal Through Preservation and Rehabilitation

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Lecture by Francesca Russello Ammon, Associate Professor of City & Regional Planning and Historic Preservation, Weitzman School of Design, University of Pennsylvania

By 1965, nearly 800 American cities—located in almost every state across the country—sought to spur revitalization through the federal policy of urban renewal. Typically, their efforts took the form of large-scale demolition aimed at clearing space for new, modern construction. The Housing Act of 1954, however, introduced federal funding for rehabilitation-based approaches as well. This talk considers the motivations behind this more conservationist approach; the practical constraints to its wider-spread adoption; and its prevalence, character, and material impacts on the ground. The landmark case of Philadelphia’s Society Hill neighborhood, in particular, helps demonstrate how a preservation-based approach to urban renewal still transformed both the physical and social character of a community.

Francesca Russello Ammon is Associate Professor of City & Regional Planning and Historic Preservation at the University of Pennsylvania Stuart Weitzman School of Design. A social and cultural historian of the built environment, she is the author of Bulldozer: Demolition and Clearance of the Postwar Landscape, winner of the 2017 Lewis Mumford Prize for the best book in American planning history. She is particularly interested in post-World War II American cities, focusing on: the history of urban renewal and revitalization; public history as a tool for community-based research and engagement; and the ways that visual culture has shaped understanding of what cities are, have been, and should be. She holds a bachelor’s degree in civil engineering from Princeton University, a master’s degree from Yale School of Architecture, and a PhD in American Studies from Yale University. Her research has been supported by the American Council of Learned Societies, Society of Architectural Historians, Mellon Foundation, Whiting Foundation, and the Ambrose Monell Foundation. She is currently writing a history of postwar preservation and urban renewal based upon the Philadelphia neighborhood of Society Hill.

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