The Utility of Value: Rectifying the Flaws of Significance and Integrity in American Public Housing
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Type of Work135 pages
ProgramMA in Historic Preservation
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Barry Farm Dwellings
Langston Terrace Dwellings
District of Columbia
Historic preservation -- Theses
Public housing of the twentieth century is a significant historic and cultural resource in the United States. It represents the homes of tens of thousands of people, housing and social reform in America, the evolving practices of services for the poor, and histories of segregation and displacement. However, less than 0.2% of constructed public housing sites have been listed in the National Register of Historic Places. I assert that this lack of recognition in preservation is a result of the intersection of devaluing spaces associated with poor people of color and the erroneous conflation of architectural significance with physical integrity. While several public housing sites are discussed in this thesis, the primary focus is Barry Farm Dwellings’ evaluation of historic significance. Through community engagement and organizing, Barry Farm Dwellings, a site that was originally determined not eligible for historic designation, was successfully designated as a District of Columbia Historic Landmark. This thesis explores why historic preservation has undervalued public housing and the how the tools for evaluations are failing to address complex sites. Grappling with how historic preservationists evaluate historical significance and integrity with regard to public housing, this thesis demonstrates that a values-centered approach can bring more holistic and defensible methods to public housing evaluations. Ideally, this could result in the preservation of historic public housing, or at the very least, result in mitigation measures if the housing is demolished. Public housing is an exceptionally important historic and cultural resource, yet many preservationists and agency reviewers have failed to apply the criteria for evaluating significance and integrity in a good faith effort. This thesis argues that the integration of values-centered preservation methods will yield more robust, transparent, equitable, accessible, and legally defensible preservation practices. Ultimately, the integration of values-centered preservation into the determination of eligibility process will produce a preservation practice that fosters community empowerment, a critical component to equitable preservation of public housing.