A framework for stabilizing and strengthening inner-city neighborhoods through the public interpretation of historic landscapes
Using Public History to Revitalize Inner Cities
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National Council on Public History's Book Award, 2012
Across the United States, historic preservation has become a catalyst for urban regeneration. Entrepreneurs, urban pioneers, and veteran city dwellers have refurbished thousands of dilapidated properties and put them to productive use as shops, restaurants, nightclubs, museums, and private residences. As a result, inner-cities, once disparaged as zones of poverty, crime, and decay have been re-branded as historic districts. Although these preservation initiatives, often supported by government tax incentives and rigid architectural controls, deserve credit for bringing people back to the city, raising property values, and generating tourist revenue, they have been less successful in creating stable and harmonious communities.
Beyond Preservation proposes a framework for stabilizing and strengthening inner-city neighborhoods through the public interpretation of historic landscapes. Its central argument is that inner-city communities can best turn preserved landscapes into assets by subjecting them to public interpretation at the grass-roots. Based on an examination of successful projects in St. Louis, Missouri and other U.S. cities, Andrew Hurley demonstrates how rigorous historical analysis can help communities articulate a local identity and plan intelligently on the basis of existing cultural and social assets.
“It’s refreshing to find a historian who writes honestly about the challenges of joining scholarship with community activism—and Hurley does so with erudition and enthusiasm. At one level a useful primer in community-history practice, this book doubles as a deeply considered reflection on the history and future of American cities.”
"The author readily acknowledges that every neighborhood and every city is different. But his focus on St. Louis gives this book a solid grounding and makes it useful for thinking about other places as well. This volume can be viewed as another important step in taking elitism out of historic preservation, but it offers much more."
"Hurley offers a strident critique of the prevailing practice of urban historic preservation.... [His] careful presentation of CHRDS’s (Community History Research and Design Services) projects, ones that have allowed communities fuller control of the production of local knowledge and increased capacity to shape the future of their neighborhoods, is invaluable for oral historians interested in sharing authority with their narrators."
"Hurley’s book is unique...in that it consists of the case studies with which he has been personally involved through the Community History Research and Design Services unit of the Public Policy Research Center at the University of Missouri – St. Louis.... Hurley offers a concise history of the demise of inner cities and the use of historic preservation as an antidote to urban decay.... Hurley’s prescription for integrating interpretation at the grassroots level with historic preservation is noteworthy, if not entirely new, and his book is a worthwhile read for anyone who is interested in understanding the past, present, and future of our urban environment."
"Beyond Preservation presents strong advocacy for bottom-up community engagement in the processes of urban regeneration. It does so through the eyes of a historian who seeks to foster a shared sense of purpose and belonging in the historic environment – not simply for its past, but for its present and in shaping a community’s vision for the future. Beyond Preservation is recommended for the contribution it makes to articulating the connections between the politics and practice of heritage-led urban regeneration and sustainable communities: not as separate concepts but as inseparable ones. The book’s thesis resonates strongly with today’s shift in focus from tangible to intangible heritage, and the expansion in the spectrum of values and criteria that should be used in appraising the historic environment, and it makes a strong plea for the role that urban historians can perform in this process."
"[Hurley] seeks to demonstrate how, through the strategic use of public history, historic preservation might become a more effective instrument for inner-city neighborhood revitalization.... Beyond Preservation [is] valuable because it provides lessons for those who are considering embarking on public history projects in the inner city, explaining just how frustrating they can become. This kind of community service is hard work. But there are overriding benefits to participating in a city’s evolution and writing about it."
"[T]he main argument is...that knowledge of the local history can be extremely important for the current population and give a substantial impulse to neighborhood life. This point is well illustrated by the author's experiences. The book offers many interesting examples of local history and the role it plays in discussions among the current inhabitants of the neighborhoods in which the significant events took place."
"[A] first-rate book that puts theories into action in the service of preserving and interpreting the cultural landscapes of urban neighborhoods. In addition to the catalog of practical models it provides, Beyond Preservation is grounded in a wider academic literature on preservation, public history, and the built environment, as well as a long-running stream of books that argue for more public engagement in the creation of history. It contributes to a nascent—and much needed—dialogue between practitioners of historic preservation, public history, public archaeology, and urban history. Beyond Preservation is a valuable addition to the literature, whether as a provocative starting point for discussion or as a practical road map for community activism."
In the series
Urban Life, Landscape, and Policy, edited by Zane L. Miller, David Stradling, and Larry Bennett.
Urban Life, Landscape, and Policy Series, edited by Zane L. Miller, David Stradling, and Larry Bennett, features books that examine past and contemporary cities, focusing on cultural and social issues. The editors seek proposals that analyze processes of urban change relevant to the future of cities and their metropolitan regions, and that examine urban and regional planning, environmental issues, and urban policy studies, thus contributing to ongoing debates.