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Author ORCID Identifier


Open Access Dissertation

Document Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)

Degree Program


Year Degree Awarded


Month Degree Awarded


First Advisor

Marla Miller

Second Advisor

Jennifer Fronc

Third Advisor

David Glassberg

Fourth Advisor

Eldra Dominique-Walker

Subject Categories

American Art and Architecture | Historic Preservation and Conservation | Oral History | Political History | Public History | United States History


From a Culture of Poverty to a Culture of Property: Preservation and Urban Crisis in the “City of Homes” explores the intersection of the historic preservation movement and the urban crisis from the vantage point of Springfield, Massachusetts in the two decades following the passage of the landmark National Historic Preservation Act in 1966. Rather than explore the workings of larger professional or governmental preservation organizations, this dissertation instead centers the role of community preservationists—those homeowners, community activists, and founders of neighborhood organizations who pursued historic preservation as an avocation and articulated preservation’s significance at the scale of their homes, neighborhoods, and cities. These preservationists mobilized their “culture of property” that positioned the responsible management and respectable tastes of property owners as an antidote to urban crime and disorder, white flight, the growing political demands of the twentieth-century Black freedom struggle, and the structural problems prohibiting access to affordable, safe, and sanitary housing. Collectively, these issues constituted an “urban crisis” especially troublesome to northeastern cities like Springfield. Promoting private property ownership entrenched metropolitan inequalities, prolonging the urban crisis rather than alleviating its worst symptoms. In placing their faith in the culture of property, community preservationists helped shepherd cities into a new era of privatization and municipal governance that ensconced real estate speculation and private property as drivers of urban rehabilitation and markers of urban citizenship and belonging. At the same time, community preservationists’ fixation on the urban crisis and their culture of property drove a reorientation of the larger national preservation movement around issues of urban decline and urban governance. Left underexplored by both urban historians and scholars of the historic preservation movement, this reorientation generated many of the modern tools of the contemporary preservation movement, including the federal historic tax credit program, revolving funds, using preservation to attend to the political demands of marginalized groups, and a quality-of-life politics used to define preservation’s relevance to urban policymakers. Situated at the intersection of urban and public history, this dissertation draws from oral histories with preservation movement participants to reveal previously unacknowledged connections between preservation and postwar urban governance.


Creative Commons License

Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 License
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 License.

Available for download on Sunday, May 26, 2024