City and Regional Planning

Francesca Russello Ammon

Assistant Professor of City and Regional Planning


Ph.D., American Studies, Yale University
M.Phil, American Studies, Yale University
M.A., History, Yale University
M.E.D. (Master of Environmental Design), Yale School of Architecture
B.S.E., Civil Engineering, Princeton University



Francesca Ammon is a cultural historian of urban planning and the built environment. Her teaching and research focus on the changing spaces of American cities, from World War II to the present. She grounds her interdisciplinary approach to this subject in the premise that the landscape materializes social relations, cultural values, and political and economic processes. Professor Ammon is particularly interested in the history of urban revitalization, with an emphasis on urban renewal; the dynamic relationship between cities and nature; public history as a tool for community-based research and engagement; and the ways that visual culture has shaped understanding of what cities are, have been, and should be. 

At Penn, Professor Ammon is a member of the standing faculty of the City & Regional Planning Department and the Graduate Program in Historic Preservation. She is also an associated faculty member of the History Department and a member of the Gender Sexuality and Women’s Studies (GSWS) Executive Board. She has been a colloquium member of the Penn/Mellon Foundation Humanities + Urbanism + Design Initiative, an Andrew W. Mellon DH Fellow at the Price Lab for Digital Humanities, and a Faculty Fellow of the Penn Institute for Urban Research. She currently serves on the board of the Society for American City & Regional Planning History (SACRPH).

Before joining the PennDesign faculty, Professor Ammon was a Visiting Scholar at the American Academy of Arts & Sciences. She has also held the Sally Kress Tompkins Fellowship, jointly sponsored by the Society of Architectural Historians (SAH) and the Historic American Buildings Survey (HABS). While completing her Ph.D. in American Studies, she held long-term fellowships as a Whiting Fellow in the Humanities, Ambrose Monell Foundation Fellow in Technology and Democracy at the Miller Center of Public Affairs, and John E. Rovensky Fellow with the Business History Conference.


Professor Ammon is the author of Bulldozer: Demolition and Clearance of the Postwar Landscape (Yale University Press, April 2016), for which the Society for American City and Regional Planning History (SACRPH) awarded her the 2017 Lewis Mumford Prize for the best book in American planning history and the Society of Architectural Historians (SAH) awarded her a Mellon Author Award. The book is not only the first scholarly history of the bulldozer, but also a sweeping examination of how the postwar nation came to equate destruction with progress. Construction equipment contributed vitally to Allied victory during the war. Afterwards, war-honed machines, men, methods, and metaphors effectively came home to reshape the domestic landscape. Case studies of urban renewal building demolition, suburban land clearance, and earthmoving for interstate highway construction demonstrate clearance practices in progresses. Meanwhile, an excavation of the bulldozer in postwar literature, films, and art reveals its popular reach. Ultimately, the project demonstrates both the processes and products of the postwar “culture of clearance.” Before the efforts of historic preservationists, neighborhood activists, and environmentalists began to temper the bulldozer’s work, the ideology, technology, policy, and practice of large-scale destruction dramatically transformed the American landscape.

This project grows out of Professor Ammon’s dissertation, for which she received the Anthony Sutcliffe Dissertation Award from the International Planning History Society (IPHS), the John Reps Prize from the Society for American City & Regional Planning History (SACRPH), the Zuckerman Prize in American Studies from the McNeil Center for Early American Studies, and was the mentioned finalist for the American Studies Association’s (ASA) Ralph Henry Gabriel Prize.

Another strand of Professor Ammon's current research examines the relationships between urban renewal, rehabilitation, and historic preservation in the cities of Philadelphia and Montreal. This work is yielding traditional publishing products, as well as a digital public humanities project titled Preserving Society Hill. The website aggregates, digitizes, and spatializes a variety of sources related to the urban renewal and historic preservation of Philadelphia's Society Hill neighborhood, including: planning and architectural data, historical photographs, and an archive of nearly 90 oral history interviews and memoirs. Preserving Society Hill is an ongoing and collaborative project, developed with support from Penn's Price Lab for Digital Humanities, the Digital Scholarship Group at Penn Libraries, and several community partners.

Additional research in progress explores the role of photographs in shaping planning and preservation discourse and practice. Professor Ammon recently organized a symposium at Penn on this general topic, titled "Picturing Policy: How Visual Culture Shapes the Urban Built Environment." During 2016-17, she also explored this interest as a Mellon Researcher with the project "Architecture and/for Photography" at the Canadian Centre for Architecture. Beginning in 2018, she and a team will collaborate with the Getty Research Institute on a digital humanities project related to photographer Ed Ruscha's “Streets of Los Angeles Archive.”

Professor Ammon has published her work in the Journal of Planning History, Journal of Urban History, Technology & Culture, Preservation Education and Research, and the archive of the Historic American Buildings Survey. She has also been featured on popular radio programs including WNYC's The Takeaway, WNPR's The Colin McEnroe Show, KPFA's Against the Grain, and the PBS television documentary 10 Towns That Changed America.

She has presented her work widely, including at the annual and biennial meetings of the Society for American City & Regional Planning History, Urban History Association, Association of Collegiate Schools of Planning, Policy History Conference, Business History Conference, and the American Studies Association. She has also given papers at special workshops and symposia at Penn’s McNeil Center for Early American Studies; Yale University’s Agrarian Studies Colloquium; the Center for the History of Business, Technology, and Society at Hagley Museum and Library; Stuttgart University’s Under Construction – Construction Sites conference; and Harvard University’s Capitalism in Action conference.




Bulldozer: Demolition and Clearance of the Postwar Landscape (New Haven: Yale University Press, 2016).


Digital Public Humanities

Preserving Society Hill: Sites and Stories of Urban Renewal in a Philadelphia Neighborhood, (launched 2018).

"Captioning Milton-Parc," with photographs by Clara Gutsche and David Miller, in What You Can Do with the City (Canadian Centre for Architecture), October 20, 2017.


Articles and Chapters

"Digital Humanities and the Urban Built Environment: Preserving the Histories of Urban Renewal and Historic Preservation,” Preservation Education and Research 10 (2018): 11-30.

“Post-Industrialization and the City of Consumption: Attempted Revitalization in Asbury Park, New Jersey,” Journal of Urban History 41:2 (March 2015): 158-174.

“Unearthing Benny the Bulldozer: The Culture of Clearance in Postwar Children’s Books,” Technology and Culture 53:2 (April 2012): 306-336.

“Commemoration Amid Criticism: The Mixed Legacy of Urban Renewal in Southwest Washington, D.C.,” Journal of Planning History 8:3 (August 2009): 175-220.

“Refuge, Resort, and Ruin: Real Estate Development and the Identity of Asbury Park, New Jersey,” in Liberty and Leisure in North America, ed. Pierre Lagayette (Paris: Presses de l’Université Paris-Sorbonne, 2008): 41-57.



At PennDesign, Professor Ammon teaches both city planning and historic preservation courses focused on the history of the built environment, historical research methods, thesis research and writing, and special topics in urban cultural history.

CPLN 500 / URBS 440: Introduction to City & Regional Planning: Past and Present
CPLN 707: Thesis Studio
HSPV 600: Documentation, Research, and Recording 1
HSPV 708: Historic Preservation Thesis Workshop
HSPV 711: Historic Preservation Thesis
HSPV 638: Photography & the City: The Visual Construction of Urban and Suburban America
HSPV 638 / MUSC 621: Cities and Sound: The Spatial Politics and Practices of Sound in Modern Urban Life (with Naomi Waltham-Smith)