Preserving the City: Urban Renewal and Restoration in Society Hill, Philadelphia


ACLS Fellowship Program


City & Regional Planning, and Historic Preservation


This history of Philadelphia’s Society Hill neighborhood complements the dominant narrative of postwar urban renewal as focused largely on clearance; it shows how modernizing cities incorporated historic preservation as well. These two practices were both enemies and allies. Using digital humanities, the project maps renewal’s social and material impacts upon more than 1,500 parcels of land by aggregating photographs, oral histories, and site-level data from government reports. The 90 oral histories, conducted by and with area residents and businesspeople, illuminate a bottom-up history of urban renewal and show that power operated in many directions. Ultimately, this project reveals that the making of the postwar city was a contested enterprise, one that lacked clear heroes and villains and pitted utopian visions against practical realities.