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Preserving urban landscapes as public history—A qualitative study of Kensington Market, Toronto

Na Li, University of Massachusetts Amherst


Situated within the interpretive and critical traditions, this study aims to contribute to one of the continuing primary themes in urban preservation: how to interpret and preserve the intangible values of built environments. A comprehensive analysis of dominant theories of urban preservation forms the conceptual framework within which this dissertation takes place. It starts by locating the intellectual context of preservation in North America, and examines its basic premises and core issues. It identifies three limits to the traditional approach to preservation planning. The complexity and fragility of history, its narrative quality and its particularities, its emotional content and economic values, all connect urban preservation with public history. Therefore, in the spirit of communicative democracy and “a shared authority”, the study incorporates collective memory as an essential construct in urban landscapes, and suggests a culturally sensitive narrative approach (CSNA). The study employs an in-depth case study. The setting is Kensington Market in Toronto, Canada. It examines retrospectively the urban renewal planning of Kensington Market in the 1960s, identifies the pivotal events that prompted the change of urban renewal policies, and demonstrates, through the interpretive policy analysis, that sometimes urban renewal plans that fail to be implemented can become success stories in how to preserve urban neighborhoods as a kind of public history. To probe deeper into the sources of conflict between the professionals and the public, the study further explores the mutual relationship between collective memory and urban landscapes. It takes a selective look at some significant sites of memory, and connects them into a narrative path. Through oral history interviewing, field observation, and material cultural analysis, this part of the analysis constitutes an empirical study of CSNA. A proposition is derived from this critical case study. The study concludes with seven steps of CSNA, a guide for urban landscape preservation and planning.

Subject Area

Cultural Resources Management|Urban planning

Recommended Citation

Li, Na, "Preserving urban landscapes as public history—A qualitative study of Kensington Market, Toronto" (2011). Doctoral Dissertations Available from Proquest. AAI3445168.