Preserving Neighborhoods through Documenting Their History

Over the past month, I’ve been working to coordinate the documentation of one of the oldest churches in town before it is “mitigated“. I’ve been working with the good folks at the Grand Forks Community Land Trust, a doctoral student in our program, and a preservation-minded local architect to get the church documented and prepare a short publication so that people know the history of the building that was lost.

As part of this work, I’ve begun to talk with the president of the board of the Community Land Trust about the potential for formalizing our relationship. Without getting into detail about how the CLT works, their goal is to provide affordable housing and invest in the local community. One of the main ways that they’ll do this is by renovating older homes or building new ones on vacant properties. Since much of the affordable housing and open lots in the city are located in historic neighborhoods (the Near North Side, Riverside, and the Near South Side), there is an opportunity to work with the CLT to document the history and fabric of these communities on a very small scale.

I’ve been imagining a plan where the CLT and, perhaps, the Department of History co-produce studies of the blocks where new or renovated CLT properties are located. Each block study will include a sketch or architectural plan of the block, basic history of the house types, the history of the development of these properties, and the history of the community. Each of these studies would be published and made available to the local community at a nominal cost. The sketch or drawing of the block will serve as a house-warming gift to the first residents of the home. It will also be deposited in the local and state archives as a contribution to the architectural and social history of the community.

GFNeighbors

While this will certainly cost money, there are numerous groups active in town who are looking for innovative ways to strengthen the sense of community.  By providing both new and existing residents with a carefully documented history of their neighborhood, its architecture, and its residents, we’d seek to contribute to the local sense of place by grounding the present in the past. For the other residents of the neighborhood, the local histories would help to ensure that the spirit of preservation would remain strong in town and help the community to have information in front of them to make informed decisions about the future of their neighborhoods. As the CLT expands, the number of blocks and histories would expand as well establishing a sound foundation for local history of the community.  And, finally, this would provide an excellent opportunity for community engagement for the Department of History and our fledgling public history program.

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