Francesca Russello Ammon

Wolf Humanities Center Penn Faculty Fellow

20242025 Forum on Keywords

Francesca Russello Ammon

Associate professor of City & Regional Planning and Historic Preservation

Francesca Russello Ammon is associate professor of City & Regional Planning and Historic Preservation at the University of Pennsylvania Stuart Weitzman School of Design. A social and cultural historian of the post-WWII built environment, she is the author of Bulldozer: Demolition and Clearance of the Postwar Landscape, winner of the Lewis Mumford Prize for the best book in American planning history. She is currently writing a history of postwar preservation and urban renewal based upon the Philadelphia neighborhood of Society Hill. She has also published two digital humanities projects. Preserving Society Hill integrates photographs, oral histories, and architectural data into narratives of urban change. Sunset Over Sunset uses Ed Ruscha’s Los Angeles photographs to illuminate vernacular redevelopment. Ammon serves as President-Elect of the Society for American City & Regional Planning History and is a member of the boards of the Preservation Alliance for Greater Philadelphia and the Public Art Association.

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

Through Philadelphia’s landmark urban renewal project, Society Hill, I explore the means and meanings of “preservation” at a foundational moment in the development of the field. During the postwar decades, national and international bodies formalized preservation policies, albeit primarily by emphasizing iconic structures. But on the vernacular landscapes of neighborhoods like Society Hill, where urban renewal commenced in 1958 across ~1,500 parcels, the everyday practices of historic preservation played out in practice. The Society Hill project also epitomized how preservation, rather than clearance alone, could paradoxically help spur urban modernization. Using nearly 100 oral histories, the often-unspoken logics of photographs, and GIS mapping, this project explores how planners, architects, bureaucrats, historians, and residents mutually defined the concept of preservation from the ground up.