Historic Preservation in Declining City Neighbourhoods: Analysing Rehabilitation Tax Credit Investments in Six US Cities

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Urban Studies


Historic preservation is common practice across the world, including in US cities. At the same time, population decline, economic distress and vacancy prevalent in declining cities, also known as legacy, shrinking or post-industrial cities, creates a pressing threat to a vast array of urban historic buildings. In the USA, recent planning and policy emphasises strategic demolition and/or targeting resources in potentially viable neighbourhoods, with little attention paid to historic preservation. To fill this gap, we use a comparative case study of federal historic rehabilitation tax credit (RTC) investments from 2000 to 2010 across the neighbourhoods of six legacy cities: Baltimore, Cleveland, Philadelphia, Providence, Richmond and St. Louis. This is the first study to use disaggregated, longitudinal RTC data to analyse investment at the neighbourhood scale. We use the Hirschman-Herfindahl Index to evaluate investment concentration and US Census 2000 data to characterise neighbourhoods where developers chose to undertake RTC projects. The findings show that RTC investments occurred across a wide range of places, including very low- and low-income neighbourhoods, and produced both market-rate and affordable housing across each city’s neighbourhoods. The findings indicate that preservation occurs across a wide range of legacy city neighbourhoods and inform urban planners and policymakers about locations where the private sector is willing to invest with favourable financing.