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Working Paper

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Historic preservation is seen frequently as a neutral and beneficial activity important in its attempt to protect for future generations the links with their cultural past. When a population is marked by diversity, however, it becomes necessary to consider how different racial or ethnic groups perceive historic preservation so that what is being preserved is not just a reminder of a history of segregation. Preservation cannot be based only on the values of particular groups who may have no special connection with the area in which they live. When this is so, it may further reinforce inequalities with regard to access to privileged places. The French Quarter of New Orleans is a heterogeneous mixture of buildings of different periods, persons and activities. In it, black population contributed to its construction, was formally an important group of property owners but over time their presence, as residents, has been almost eliminated. This reduction in black population has taken place at a time when the French Quarter was being regenerated from the abandon that marked the earlier part of this century and was being accepted as a respectable place to live for more affluent persons. Thus, preservation has had the effect of reducing the racial diversity of the Quarter. Through the analysis of extended conversations with a diverse group of denizens, it has become clear that the segregated past of the Quarter still affects the perception of the black majority population of the Quarter, and it is not a place where they feel comfortable to live. Likewise it affects the priority given to the whole issue of preservation, particularly when in discourse it is viewed as a barrier to economic development perceived as beneficial to a majority black population through job generation. Similarly, in the Quarter problems such as music making in public spaces and the imposition of 'zero tolerance' as a police strategy, generate further racial tensions. Such tensions put the development/preservation debate in particularly dichotomous terms, and tend to reinforce racial tensions and stereotypes.