Redevelopment’s Dismal Story

We offer without comment the astute words of Roberta Brandes-Gratz. We do not necessarily endorse her proposed solutions to America’s urban problems. But as far as her skewering of past half-century’s redevelopment blunders goes, it’s hard to find a better, concise summary. This is from Robertta Brandes-Gratz, Shrinking Cities: Urban Renewal Revisited? For the whole article go to

Here we go:

“First came urban renewal, destroying more residential units than replaced by towers in the park.

“Then came the highways through the cities, piggybacking on the massive clearance of urban renewal, demolishing more whole neighborhoods. Thousands of industrial and small businesses and the jobs that came with them were lost, along with countless housing units.

“Then came “planned shrinkage,” the idea that cities should close down failing neighborhoods, shut off the infrastructure built to accommodate density and concentrate investment in neighborhoods still worthy of middle income investment. Places like the South Bronx were left to burn.

“Then came the endless number of parking lots to accommodate all the cars driven by the commuters who fled the urban wreckage for the suburbs and were now driving on the highways that drew them out of the city. Countless recyclable buildings of all periods and architectural styles – not to mention historic structures – were lost.

“Then came Hope VI which has destroyed more low-income public housing units than it has replaced, all in the name of creating economically integrated projects instead of warehouses for the poor. A worthy goal achieved at the expense of the poor, resulting in even fewer affordable housing units. Invariably, a smaller number of low-income units replaced what was demolished. The displaced families not re-housed in the new units were sent with Section 8 vouchers to already marginal neighborhoods guaranteed to create the next “blighted” district worthy of “replacement.”

“Then came urban agriculture which — although a good idea for backyards, empty lots and modest-scale community gardens — suddenly scaled up to whole neighborhoods whose remnants are often old houses which even in their deteriorated condition are built more solidly than any of the flimsy new structures replacing them today.

“Now comes the “theory” that the salvation of distressed cities is to once again “shrink,” as if shrinking had been tried before and succeeded somewhere but who knows where.

“Can anyone point to one city, just one, where any of these “renewal” schemes that dedensify cities have worked to regenerate, rather than further erode, a city? Just one. No theory please; just real on the ground success.”