2023 Urban Planning Thesis Prize: Michael Zajakowski Uhll’s “Our History is our Resource:” Historic Narrative as Urban Planning Strategy in Chicago’s Pullman Neighborhood

Black and White photo showing Striking workers at Pullman Factory in 1894

Striking workers at Pullman Factory in 1894

by Michael Zajakowski Uhll (MUP ’23) — Recipient of the Urban Planning Thesis Prize.

How do site and neighborhood history potentially inform material neighborhood development in the present? This investigation focused on Pullman, a neighborhood on the south side of Chicago that has a long and storied history of industry and labor activism. More recently, in the last few decades, the neighborhood has been held up as an example of equitable area development throughout the city and country. Through a comprehensive literature and data analysis and interviews with 23 area stakeholders, this thesis sought to determine whether Pullman’s history and historic narrative contributed to these patterns of development in the present.

Photograph shwing a sign of Pullman National Monument
Pullman National Monument

The findings indicate that, while Pullman may be an exceptional case in many ways, the historic narrative of the place itself is perhaps less important than the way the community chooses to interact with and institutionalize its own history. In Pullman, neighborhood history was developmentally relevant in five broad categories: history as informing community activism, institutionalization of history across diverse stakeholder groups (community organizations, residents, and businesses), history as a community identity, history as informing design decisions and the preservation of naturally occurring affordable housing, and history as “specter.” These findings are important for the field of urban planning because they illuminate potential ways to leverage and institutionalize site history as a planning strategy in the present, and the Pullman example offers some replicable strategies for other urban neighborhoods.