Date of Award


Degree Type


Degree Name

Master of Arts in Community Planning


Community Planning

First Advisor

Marshall Feldman


The preservation of historic landmarks and neighborhoods has been accepted as intrinsically valuable and worthwhile. However, as a social process, historic preservation may be subject to class segmentation in terms of access to and use of the process. This paper explores of the patterns of historic preservation in order to shed light on the relationship between underlying social processes and the creation and control of urban form. Has historic preservation occurred equally throughout cities, or has it been concentrated in upper class neighborhoods? A disproportionate rate of incidence might indicate a preference of those in power to use historic preservation as an exclusive form of control over the urban landscape. As such, historic preservation can be better understood as not a democratic process governing the preservation of buildings based on an objective standard but instead a political process through which elite classes vie for control over the appearance and use of the built environment (Lee 2001; Metzger 2001 ). Additionally, assertions that participation in historic preservation has increased in recent years have been questioned, and closer scrutiny has revealed profit motives (Frieden and Sagalyn 1989; Lee 2001; Reichl 1997).

This study outlines the reasons why historic preservation is vulnerable to becoming an exclusionary form of control over urban form, regulated by a limited tier of socioeconomic classes. It is because of the power of historic preservation that we must be cognizant of the potential for this process to be exploited or systematically biased. Historic preservation, if not better understood , can be used to exclude or privilege one group over another. This research scrutinizes the class aspect of historic preservation, a process that is an attractor of public funds and political power.

By exploring the relationship between the preservation of historic buildings and districts and the socioeconomic characteristics of residents near the specific preservation sites, this research explores the influence of a social class structure on the incidence of historic preservation. Using the city of Boston as a case study, a closer exploration of the patterns of historic preservation in Boston is undertaken to explain the mutual interaction of physical form and social process of urban morphology that is taking place. A combination of both visual exploration and regression analysis is introduced as a novel and comprehensive approach to understanding a complex social process. The results of this research indicate that historic preservation was concentrated in upper class neighborhoods immediately following the passage of the National Historic Preservation Act in 1966, but more recent preservation efforts are dispersed throughout the city of Boston.



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