Tuesday, January 19, 2021

Aaron Passell's "Preserving Neighborhoods"

Aaron Passell is associate director of the Urban Studies Program at Barnard College, Columbia University. He is also the author of Building the New Urbanism: Places, Professions, and Profits in the American Metropolitan Landscape (2013).

Passell applied the “Page 99 Test” to his new book, Preserving Neighborhoods: How Urban Policy and Community Strategy Shape Baltimore and Brooklyn, and reported the following:
Much of the page is taken up by a graph showing the steadily and significantly increasing White population of central Brooklyn, New York, between 2000 and 2015 (from about 5% to about 25%). I argue, following Sampson (2012), that this is a comparatively rare case of gentrification occurring in much the way that neighborhood activists fear it will, with working and middle-class Black residents displaced by upper-middle class Whites.

The Page 99 Test would mislead readers about Preserving Neighborhoods. It points to a case of gentrification in the long-time Black neighborhoods of central Brooklyn, but misses the point of my research which is about how local activists use historic preservation regulation to mitigate this process in Brooklyn. It also misses the radical contrast – a kind of most-different case comparison – with Baltimore and how preservation regulation has been used there to encourage neighborhood revitalization. Historic preservation, neighborhood change, and the relationship between the two all operate differently in the context of different degrees of development pressure (rapid growth vs. decades of shrinkage).

Page 99 presents evidence of neighborhood change, but does nothing to reveal the underlying processes. The intention of the book is to unpack these processes and to complicate our understanding of them, indicating how diverse they can be from city to city, even neighborhood to neighborhood. I show that historic district designation can be a mechanism for neighborhood change, but that it should not be mistaken for a uniform influence. Not only do preservation efforts function differently in different contexts, but their most significant contribution may be indirect, as a form of community-building, rather than simply saving the built environment.
Visit Aaron Passell's website.

--Marshal Zeringue