Does Preservation Accelerate Neighborhood Change? Examining the Impact of Historic Preservation in New York City

Brian J. McCabe and Ingrid Gould Ellen

Problem, research strategy, and findings: A number of studies have examined the property value impacts of historic preservation, but few have considered how preservation shapes neighborhood composition. In this study, we ask whether the designation of historic districts contributes to changes in the racial composition and socioeconomic status of New York City neighborhoods. Bringing together data on historic districts with a panel of census tracts, we study how neighborhoods change after the designation of a historic district. We find little evidence of changes in the racial composition of a neighborhood, but report a significant increase in socioeconomic status following historic designation.

Takeaway for practice: Our research offers empirical evidence on changes in the racial composition and socioeconomic status of neighborhoods following the designation of a historic district. It suggests that historic preservation can contribute to economic revitalization in urban neighborhoods, but that these changes risk making neighborhoods less accessible to lower-income residents. Planners should consider ways that the city government can work to preserve the highly valued amenities of historic neighborhoods while mitigating the potential for residential displacement.

Wagner Faculty