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Journal of Urban History








Historic preservation is the child of the city. In North America, the United States Conference of Mayors served as midwife to the birth of the modern historic preservation movement, when in January 1966, it issued the report With a Heritage So Rich. The report’s authors argued that in losing historic buildings and districts to urban renewal America was severing a vital link to the past. “Connections between successive generations of Americans—concretely linking their ways of life—are broken by demolition. Sources of memory cease to exist.” Part coffee-table book and part policy proposal, the volume laid the foundation for the 1966 National Historic Preservation Act, whose fiftieth anniversary was recently celebrated. Even before these decisive actions, Jane Jacobs made the need to preserve the historic fabric of the city, a key element in her critique The Death and Life of Great American Cities. For Jacobs, old buildings, historic and otherwise, were also a key to maintaining the low rent commercial real estate base that was vital to growth of new businesses. “Cities need old buildings,” she wrote, “so badly it is probably impossible for vigorous streets and districts to grow without them.” Together Jacobs and the United States Conference of Mayors laid the foundation for historic preservation in North America, but they also laid bare a conflict that emerges at some point in every urban preservation enterprise. Is historic preservation a piece in a complex urban redevelopment strategy or is historic preservation an end unto itself?1


Author Posting. © Theodore Karamanski 2018. This article is posted here by permission of SAGE for personal use, not for redistribution. The article was published in the Journal of Urban History, 2018,

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Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-No Derivative Works 3.0 License
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-No Derivative Works 3.0 License.