Innovative approach to surveying the Motor City

Posted in: Cultural Resources

A preservation success story

Examples of residential neighborhoods documented during survey of the Motor City
Examples of residential neighborhoods documented during the survey of Motor City

Mead & Hunt is celebrating Preservation Month with preservation success stories. We highlight this project to illustrate an innovative approach.

The city of Detroit experienced rapid development in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries and became one of the largest cities in the nation historically. This unique American city represents the explosive trends in industrial and residential growth and development during this period. Surprisingly little information was available on the large number of residential neighborhoods that developed in response to the city’s booming population. Previous architecture and/or history surveys had focused on the heart of the city, scattered residential pockets, existing historic districts or areas located adjacent to transportation improvement projects.

To gain a comprehensive understanding of residential neighborhoods, the Michigan State Historic Preservation Office undertook a city-wide reconnaissance-level survey. Completed within an aggressive schedule of only 11 months, the survey evaluated residences collectively and identified those individual resources and districts that had the most potential to be eligible for listing in the National Register of Historic Places. This ambitious project allowed for a comparison of like resources within the greater context of entire city.

Working on this project, I found the comprehensive approach especially beneficial as an innovative and quick way to evaluate a huge number of subdivisions. Rather than determining significance and assessing integrity case-by-case, we were able to weigh many neighborhoods against each other and identify the truly significant examples.
Eighteen historic districts and 189 individual resources were identified as eligible for the National Register as a result of the survey. The Detroit survey report is available online.

Bookmark us for regular updates on news related to cultural resources and follow us on Twitter @MHcrm. We invite you to join us in using #PresMonth on Twitter or add a comment below to share your success stories, innovation, or plans for preservation stewardship.

Additional information this project: Surveying and documenting post-war housing: A new methodology

Emily Pettis

About the Author

Emily Pettis enjoys different types of historic preservation projects and helping our clients. “I love the variety of projects I get to work on, from leading large urban surveys to evaluating historic rural landscapes,” she says. Emily specializes in developing balanced solutions that meet client needs while respecting historic resources for future generations.

Read more posts by Emily Pettis

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