Emily Badger, NY Times - Two weeks before the election, Donald J. Trump delivered a speech in Charlotte, N.C., sketching his “New Deal for Black America.” It was a set of ideas promising greater school choice, safer communities, lower taxes and better infrastructure.
The four-page outline posted to his campaign website that summarizes it — a document subtitled “A Plan for Urban Renewal” — is today the closest thing the president-elect has to a proposal for America’s cities.
When Mr. Trump announced plans on Monday to nominate Ben Carson to lead the Department of Housing and Urban Development, he said the two men had “talked at length about my urban renewal agenda.”
... The term “urban renewal” dates to the Housing Act of 1954; its 1949 predecessor called the same policy “urban redevelopment.” Under these laws, the federal government gave cities the power and money to condemn “slum” neighborhoods, clear them through eminent domain, then turn over the land to private developers at cheap rates for projects that included higher-end housing, hospitals, hotels, shopping centers and college expansions.
After the 1956 Highway Act, the same process displaced communities to make way for the construction of urban thruways.
Urban renewal was meant to wipe clean poor, deteriorating neighborhoods, while boosting tax coffers, stimulating private investment and luring middle-class residents and shoppers back into the city. ... As the government was incentivizing middle-class whites to move to the suburbs, it also invested heavily in trying to rebuild central cities to draw them back in.
It was billed as progress. “A lot of the emphasis in urban renewal was on the ‘new’ part of renewal — that this was a way of moving forward,” said Lawrence Vale, a professor of urban design and planning at M.I.T.
But that progress came at the expense of communities as they were bulldozed. Ultimately, those middle-class families and shoppers did not move back in — at least not for many decades. The entire program, the sociologist Herbert Gans wrote in 1965, was “a method for eliminating the slums in order to ‘renew’ the city, rather than a program for properly rehousing slum-dwellers.”
Urban renewal was fundamentally about places, not people — and the people in the way of redeveloping those places were often scattered to other slums or housing they could not afford. Seldom were they welcomed back to what was built in place of their homes. And less than 1 percent of all federal spending for urban renewal between 1949 and 1964 went to relocation, Mr. Gans wrote.
“That gives you a sense of what this thing was all about,” Mr. Gans, who is now retired, said this week of that last statistic. “Saving the cities in an era of suburbanization and declining tax rolls was more important to the federal government than helping poor people.”
During that era, four units of low-income housing were destroyed for every one new unit that was built. And more than two-thirds of the displaced were black or Hispanic, a pattern that was clear by 1963 when the author James Baldwin observed that urban renewal “means Negro removal.”
Sam Smith - In the late 1950s, I was sent to interview a woman who was refusing to move out of her house in the Southwest urban renewal area. Hundreds of acres had been leveled around her and still she clung on like a survivor of the Dresden carpet bombing. The project, the largest in the nation, had begun in April 1954 and five years later some 550 acres had been cleared. Only 300 families remained to be relocated. More than 20,000 people and 800 businesses had been kicked out to make way for the plan. Some 80% of the latter never went back into operation.
The design was hailed by planners and liberals; a 1955 report for the District was titled No Slums in Ten Years. Not everyone was so sanguine, however. In a 1959 report of the National Conference of Catholic Charities, the Rt. Rev. Msg. John O'Grady said, "It is sad. It is not urban renewal; it is a means of making a few people rich. Instead of improving housing conditions, it is shifting people around from one slum to another."
The Supreme Court disagreed. In 1954 it had upheld the underlying law and in a decision written by none other than William O. Douglas, declared:
It is within the power of the legislature to determine that the community should be beautiful as well as healthy, spacious as well as clean, well-balanced as well as carefully patrolled . . . The experts concluded that if the community were to be healthy, if it were not to revert again to a blighted or slum area, as though possessed by a congenital disease, the area must be planned as a whole.