Uncovering JAPA

How Does Historic Preservation Show Up in Comprehensive Planning Documents?

While understanding of the intersection of urban planning and historic preservation has grown in recent years, scholars have yet to seriously analyze how historic preservation is used in one of the most important planning tools — the comprehensive plan.

Analyzing Historic Preservation in Portland Planning

In her Journal of the American Planning Association article (Vol. 87, No. 2) "Including Preservation in Planning: Albina and Portland's Comprehensive Plan," Eleonora Redaelli begins to fill this gap by analyzing aspects of historic preservation in several comprehensive planning documents that either partially encompass or focus solely on Portland's historically-Black neighborhood of Albina. Specifically, she examines documents at three scales:

  1. Citywide — for which she examines Portland's Comprehensive Plan
  2. Community area — for which she examines the specific Albina Community Plan (ACP)
  3. District-level — she turns to the eight historic districts created by the ACP and accompanying documentation. (See Table 2).
Table 2: Preservation policies: Underlying institutions and preservation approaches.

Table 2: Preservation policies: Underlying institutions and preservation approaches.

Portland Planning and Historic Preservation Analysis Findings

Redaelli finds that while higher-level planning documents (particularly the Albina Community Plan) frame preservation in terms of community assets focusing broadly on "the history of the local community, its people, and its built and natural environments," the main preservation tool laid out by the Albina Community Plan, historic districts, focuses predominantly on preserving only the neighborhood's physical aspects. In this way, it gives into what Redaelli (drawing on Mason) calls the "curatorial impulse" of historic preservation, which fails to consider the "intangible assets beyond the built environment, such as cultural practices," as well as landscape preservation.

Using these findings, Redaelli outlines three important aspects of the intersection of planning and preservation. The first is that the use of historic preservation in planning practice is influenced by various levels of government — in this case, the state-level law that mandated the creation of a comprehensive plan, the state-level Historic Preservation Office's guidelines that influenced the ACP's use of historic districts, and the city-level planning department that created the plan and implemented it at the neighborhood-level. Second, given that the historic districts have focused mostly on physical preservation whereas the higher-level planning documents have outlined a broader approach to community preservation, she stresses the need to analyze these documents together to understand how the comprehensive plan's initial goals were ultimately implemented. Third, she points to the importance of how Portland's citywide comprehensive plan aimed to take a holistic approach to preservation as part of its approach to neighborhood residential quality and economic vitality, even if it was not ultimately implemented as such.

In addition to the findings above, Redaelli's case study stresses the need to ensure the implementation of broader preservation goals beyond physical preservation in historically-Black neighborhoods, given historical distrust amongst Black communities of physically focused historic preservation tactics perceived as being tied to neighborhood gentrification.

Top image: Courtesy of the Oregon Historical Society, #bb009732.

About the author
Ben Demers is a Master of Urban Planning and Master of Public Policy candidate at Harvard University.

August 26, 2021

By Benjamin Demers