Morley Paper

Morley’s study of the historic preservation in cities such as Seattle, Denver and Albuquerque is marked by the use of third rate historical ideologies which have been critical in providing support to first rate urban development in western united states  both 20th and 21st centuries. She affirms in her discussion that indeed identity is a created concept. This is illustrative that historical preservation practices are times flexible and overly erroneous in providing an understanding of the past. She suggests that as opposed to evaluation of a given historic district in comparing it a historical antecedent, it is critical to undertake the evaluation of the district based on the individual choices of developers, planners, and local officials present during periods such as the 1950s and 1960s.

The understanding that preservation is based on social constructed pasts of a community is not a new concept. The idea of imaginative reconstruction in the American West as used by Morley is drawn from previous works such as John M. Findlay in the works Magic Lands: Western Cityscapes and American Culture After 1940 (1992)[1]. This work covered the idealization of American Western history from an urban context. On the other hand, Morley provides an effective and deeply researched study of the role of planning historians, planners and western historians to provide lessons on the imaginative reconstruction that took place in the American West.

Morley’s work is effective in brining the audience closer to the reconstructions of American cities that grew because of postwar incentives that induced clearance and reconstruction. Clearance and renewal in American cities played a critical role in reversion of trends for a number of urban neighborhoods. She notes that these historical neighborhoods were able to gain public recognition by garnering support at the grass-root level leading to development by city officials on areas, which were originally dismissed by overly cautious real estate developers and city planners.

Morley also notes that preservation of these historic cities and neighborhoods in the country can be simply termed as a paradox, saving these buildings and structures while defying change of reconstruction, which brought these buildings in the first instance. Her studies renew these paradoxes with a specific reference on the mythologies and histories of the West. For instance, in Albuquerque’s Old Town, that was annexed by the white community, despite overwhelming reluctance from the Hispanic community, who primarily intent on utilization the heritage of the city was reconstructed and redecorated in a manner that was only befitting for Santa Fe during the 1930s, rather than Albuquerque in the 1890s.

Little is learned from the implementation of the housing and renewal acts implemented in the years 1949 and 1954 respectively as well as the subsequent shift towards neighborhood-based community development funding and the application of Tax reforms undertaken in the year 1976[2]. It is important to note that cities generally have amorphous boundaries and definitions, whereas the basic tent of identity is core to their respective formations. In essence, the members of an imagined community, such as the populations in the cities identified by Morley, do not know each other personally, yet the share a similar sense of communion due to shared values, beliefs, attitudes, and ideologies.

It can be understood the reconstruction of these cities by new populations was driven by the need to develop and reaffirm a sense of identity. Outside communities usually ply a role in the development of distinctive perceptions about a particular society. In addition, the perceptions of the outsiders usually permeate into the specific society and affect the definition and identity of the community. This is noted in communities such as Albuquerque in the 1890s that was transformed by the white settlers who redeveloped and transformed to meet their respective needs. It can also be argued that the choices of the population usually play a critical role in definition and construction of the political geography through manipulation and subsequent development of identity. This provides an elaborate overview of the evolution of communities and cities such as Seattle, Denver, and Albuquerque in the west that were transformed by the presence of new settlers, with minimal consideration of the historical relevance of these areas for the native communities.

Essentially, political and geographical boundaries are developed by human beings and more so by entities that are not native to a given community. A majority of the developments in the American West can be attributed to the white communities who are not natives of these areas, but rather sought to claim them as their own[3]. Historical districts can be termed as primary examples of the man-made geography and its overall role effect on an imagined community. Government actors such as planners and politicians usually develop boundaries in respect to various factors such as importance of different historical evens and the inherent traits of identified architecture.

The development of boundaries of these historic districts or neighborhoods on the identified factors fails to consider the definition utilized by a community individually and understanding of its self-identity. For instance, Morley notes that in annexing Albuquerque’s Old Town, the white community failed to tae into consideration the existing definition and identity developed by the Hispanic community for this area. Subsequently, the practice of historic districting the United States renders ordinal or native communities enclosed by unfamiliar boundaries, which fail to take into consideration prior values, attitudes, and cultural definitions of existing boundaries.

Researchers have argued the development of historic districts have been effective in establishment of stability and originality in hectic cities. In addition, the sense of communal identity that is accruable from the use of legislation may not be compatible with the realities and expectations of the native communities in these historic districts. The historic district may opt to promote a single conception or identity of one community over the other, resulting in the distortion of the inherent identity and communal definition within the community as well as how the outside world defines such a community. Morley also noted that the geographic neighbors within these historic districts may share minimal values and attitudes with the emergent identity, yet through the restriction of the historic district they may be bound together and influence the identities of each other[4].

The validation of the various zoning regulations and policies by the United States Supreme Court enabled the city governments in the United States to use this as a platform for controlling the basic aesthetic features within the neighborhoods and creating historic districts. This practice was initiated because of the desire by the public to save buildings, which initially served critical needs of the public. For instance, the historical relevance of the Old State House in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania was the staring posing of the development of historical districts, given the building served as the venue for the constitutional Convention, which gave birth to the American constitution. Thus, it is important to note that these historical districts play an important role in affirmation of the identities of new communities, with minimal consideration for old values and attitudes held by the native populations. It has been argued that the reconstruction and development of historic districts was because of the need to protect the welfare of the public in the cities. This would ensure that the future generations are able to understand the origin and more so the historical value of the various areas in urban communities in the United States.

The desire to preserve structures due to the appearance is critical towards ensuring the presence of beauty in the communities. Thus, it is apparent that cities are able to develop historic preservation regulations and policies with an aim of protecting the old districts for the basic reason the old styles of such structures appeals to the aesthetic values and tastes of the local communities. This was affirmed by the enactment of the National Historic Preservation Act by the federal government that provides the government with a role in the historic preservation critical areas in the local communities.

This act is responsible for the establishment of the National Register of Historic Places, which is maintained by the country’s Secretary of the Interior. In addition, despite the declaration provided by the federal involvement in undertaking historical preservation, a large part of the decision-making lies with the local communities tasked with selection of preferable areas for preservation[5]. A majority of these areas listed within the National Register are of critical local significance given that they appeal to values of the citizens and more so the historical relevance of these areas.

Morley provides an effective and appropriate discussion on the importance of ensuring sustenance of historical districts in the country as she uses the America’s West as an example of the relevance of these areas. On the other hand, it is evident that there is minimal consideration of the preferences of the native communities given that majorities of these historical regions were redeveloped by white settlers as in the case of areas such as Seattle, Denver, and Albuquerque. However, imaginative reconstruction is effective as it ensures that the aesthetic appeal of these historical areas is affirmed and protected for enjoyment by the local communities.



Morley, Judy Mattivi. Historic Preservation & the Imagined West: Albuquerque, Denver, & Seattle. Lawrence: University Press of Kansas, 2006.


[1] Judy Mattivi Morley, Historic Preservation & the Imagined West: Albuquerque, Denver, & Seattle (Lawrence: University Press of Kansas, 2006) 28.


[2] Judy Mattivi Morley, Historic Preservation & the Imagined West: Albuquerque, Denver, & Seattle (Lawrence: University Press of Kansas, 2006) 28.


[3] Judy Mattivi Morley, Historic Preservation & the Imagined West: Albuquerque, Denver, & Seattle (Lawrence: University Press of Kansas, 2006) 28.


[4] Judy Mattivi Morley, Historic Preservation & the Imagined West: Albuquerque, Denver, & Seattle (Lawrence: University Press of Kansas, 2006) 28.


[5] Judy Mattivi Morley, Historic Preservation & the Imagined West: Albuquerque, Denver, & Seattle (Lawrence: University Press of Kansas, 2006) 28.


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