Urban Redevelopment – Looking Back at 1964

 Www.newsok.com brings us an article by Steve Lackmeyer (May 2, 2010) looking back at Oklahoma City’s 1964 urban renewal plan by noted architect I. M. Pei and its aftermath. See http://www.newsok.com/downtown-oklahoma-citys-plan-revisited/article/3458239?custom_click=pod_headline_national-finance-news

“Almost a half century has passed since architect I. M. Pei arrived in Oklahoma City with plans to remake its downtown, and downtown has been a consistent construction zone ever since.”

 “Pei’s plan, which included the demolition of more than 500 buildings, was despised by the city’s locals and outdated in the end and met its demise in the late 1980s.”

 Wikipedia describes these events as follows:  

“As with many other American cities, center city population declined in the 1970s and 80s as families moved to newer housing in nearby suburbs. Urban Renewal projects in the 1970s including the Pei Plan (Oklahoma City) unfortunately removed many older historic structures but then compounded it by failing to spark much new development.”

 And there goes another grand redevelopment vision. That the failed Oklahoma City redevelopment plan was unveiled in 1964 is pretty interesting because that year was the heyday of grandiose redevelopment plans all over America, most of which failed. We recommend that you get ahold of the November 6, 1964 issue of TIME magazine, and check out the cover story, The City: Under the Knife, or All For Their Own Good, at p. 60. It’s a fascinating read for two reasons. First, it embodies the enthusiasm for the bulldozer model of urban redevelopment which was going to give us wonderful, modern cities. As the TIME article concludes: 

“. . . U.S. planners are, and properly should be, thinking in terms of the long future to make the city attractive and stimulating again – creating new neighborhoods, bringing old ones back to life, seeding the streets with sudden green, opening up unexpected views, and giving men room to work and stroll and play and talk. To rediscover, in short, the pleasures of urbanity.” 

Second, the story is accompanied by 11 color photos of various redevelopment projects under construction. So we suggest that you go to a good library and check out those photos in an actual old copy of TIME, since they may not be available on line. 

But things haven’t worked out the way TIME hoped they would, have they? The TIME magazine story discussed redevelopment projects in San Francisco, Hartford, St. Louis, Cleveland, Baltimore and Buffalo, but it focused on Philadelphia. So it may be interesting to see what happened there. As the New York Times reported (Andrew Jacobs, A City Revived, but With Buildings Falling Right and Left, N.Y. Times, Aug. 20, 2000, p. A14), 36 years later, in Philadelphia, in spite of its thriving downtown, old, rotten buildings have been literally falling down in less favored parts of the city. Those are not being redeveloped. The other cities on TIME’s list haven’t succeeded in this effort either.

So much for good intentions, and so much for visions of a glorious urban future brought about at someone else’s expense.

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