Political Designs: Architecture and Urban Renewal in the Civil Rights Era, 1954-1973

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Political Designs: Architecture and Urban Renewal in the Civil Rights Era, 1954-1973

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Title: Political Designs: Architecture and Urban Renewal in the Civil Rights Era, 1954-1973
Author: Hock, Jennifer
Citation: Hock, Jennifer. 2012. Political Designs: Architecture and Urban Renewal in the Civil Rights Era, 1954-1973. Doctoral dissertation, Harvard University.
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Abstract: This dissertation considers the impact of the U.S. civil rights movement on postwar urban design and urban policy, looking specifically at the case of urban renewal, a federal program of urban reconstruction intended to help central cities modernize and compete with the growing suburbs. Tracing the history of three renewal projects from planning through design and implementation, it argues that these projects were shaped by public debates on civil rights and desegregation and the growing ability of community groups to organize and advocate on their own behalf. This dissertation also revisits the usual critique of urban renewal as a program of social and physical destruction and describes these years as a tumultuous period of construction and community building defined by new expectations for community participation and racial justice. Conceived in the 1950s, as the impact of postwar suburbanization began to be felt in older urban neighborhoods, renewal projects aimed to revitalize declining areas through targeted interventions in the built environment, including the construction of modern housing, shopping centers, and community facilities, as well as the rehabilitation of existing housing. During the turbulent 1960s, these physical design strategies took on political significance, as city officials, planners, and residents considered urban change alongside the social issues of the period, such the racial integration of the housing market, de facto school segregation, and community control over neighborhood resources. Although these projects often began as idealized experiments in racial and economic integration, they quickly became battlegrounds on which communities struggled to balance their desire for federal investment and modernization against the costs of displacement and gentrification. Ultimately, as the civil rights and Black Power movements gathered strength, racial identity and community control were privileged over integration and assimilation, and the buildings and spaces that represented postwar liberalism became targets of anger and protest. While many of these spaces now seem ill-conceived or poorly designed, the collapse of urban renewal is no mere failure of design or planning policy—it is the result of a profound shift in social and political relationships that played out through the negotiation of change in the urban built environment.
Terms of Use: This article is made available under the terms and conditions applicable to Other Posted Material, as set forth at http://nrs.harvard.edu/urn-3:HUL.InstRepos:dash.current.terms-of-use#LAA
Citable link to this page: http://nrs.harvard.edu/urn-3:HUL.InstRepos:9560824
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