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-   -   "Urban Renewal" in '50s'60s (https://boards.straightdope.com/sdmb/showthread.php?t=690869)

MikeS 05-13-2013 06:30 PM

"Urban Renewal" in '50s'60s
 
Back when I lived in Chicago, I had a nice apartment that backed onto Nichols Park, a park with an area of about two square blocks in Hyde Park. I heard, partway through my time living there, that several of the parks in Hyde Park were the result of "urban renewal", which was basically explained to me as the expropriation & demolition of dodgy apartment buildings. Nichols Park was apparently one of these parks, as were the landscaped strips on the north side of 55th Street between University (?) and Drexel (?).

Is my conception of this "urban renewal" process accurate? It sounds a bit dodgy to me, since it seems like an instance of people in power using that power to disrupt the lives of the powerless. Did this happen in other neighborhoods as well, either on the South Side or anywhere else in Chicago?

Mr Downtown 05-13-2013 11:43 PM

Urban renewal reshaped huge swaths of many US cities.

The concern was "blight," and substandard housing. Chicago in 1950 still had huge numbers of dwelling units with shared toilets or outhouses, with very serious crowding, fire safety, and structural concerns. Historic preservation, for anything other than a famous person's mansion, hadn't yet come of age except in New Orleans' Vieux Carre.

In most cities, the formula was extensive land clearance followed by redevelopment, and this was done though much of Chicago's Black Belt, with hundreds of blocks cleared for Prairie Shores, Lake Meadows, IIT, South Commons, and a dozen public housing projects. Land around Canal & Taylor was cleared for modern light industrial facilities.

Hyde Park pioneered a new type of redevelopment: the conservation area. Careful surveys were made of the existing building stock to see what could be left alone, what could be rehabbed, and what should be demolished. That accounts for the patchwork arrangements of the I.M. Pei and Harry Weese–designed townhouses along the 55th Street corridor. Some big chunks were cleared, too, including Monoxide Island, the Co-Op Shopping Center, and the land that eventually became Nichols Park (accounting for its irregular boundaries).

Urban renewal eventually came to even Lincoln Park, where the old German business strip along the north side of North Avenue was blown away for street widening and redevelopment. It had a stormy history in many other cities, notably Boston, New Haven, and Washington, where urban renewal was mocked as "Negro removal." Federal money under various programs eventually dried up, but local redevelopment laws and authorities continued a lot of downtown redevelopment. Downtown Los Angeles, for instance, has been completely transformed (mostly moved to Bunker Hill) by its redevelopment agency.

As for disrupting the lives of the powerless, yes, that's always been an issue with such major surgery. And some of the operations were less than successful. Redevelopment authority became quite the cause celebre in 2005 with the Kelo v. City of New London decision, 545 U.S. 469. Property-rights activists were apoplectic that the Supreme Court left the law as it had been for 50 years, rather than inventing a new constitutional right protecting citizens from their own state legislatures and city councils. As a result, several state legislatures have now been pressured into severely limiting eminent domain for redevelopment.

Lumpy 05-14-2013 07:09 AM

In addition, the Interstate Highway system disrupted quite a few urban neighborhoods as what were effectively asphalt rivers were carved through cities.

Re. Kelo: eminent domain is nothing new, but what rankled was the idea that the government could take land not just for things like public works but to resell to a private party for the sake of maximizing tax revenue. In effect, rich people with political connections can decide that they deserve your property more than you do. The potential for abuse is limitless.


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