urban renewal projects


On this day in 1954, Boston announced the opening of the Central Artery, the first elevated expressway in the United States. Reporters from the Boston Globe predicted that commutes into Boston would be reduced exponentially.  Unfortunately, these predictions proved to be too optimistic. Less than 30 years later, Governor Michale Dukakis, announced that the Central Artery would be torn down and replaced with an underground expressway. The Big Dig, as the new project was known, was completed in 2007.

The above photos show the Central Artery prior to the construction of the Big Dig. Do any of our followers remember driving on this expressway?

Central Artery, circa 1955-1975  Charlestown Urban Renewal project, Boston Redevelopment Authority photographs, Collection 4010.001

Green Line trolley next to Central Artery, 1976 May,  Peter H. Dreyer slide collection, Collection #9800.007, Boston City Archives, Boston

Homelessness a Racial Matter: Why Are Black Families Over-represented in Homeless Shelters?

The statistics are stark: In 2010, 1 in 141 black family members stayed in a homeless shelter, a rate 7 times higher than for white families. Black people in families make up 12.1 percent of the U.S. family population, but represented 38.8 percent of sheltered people in families in 2010. In comparison, 65.8 percent of people in families in the general population are white, while white family members only occupied 28.6 percent of family shelter beds in 2010.

Homelessness is primarily a poverty issue. In 2010, nearly one-quarter (23.3 percent) of black families lived in poverty, three times the rate of white families (7.1 percent). But the issue goes deeper than that. And there is more to it than that. Understanding why blacks are over-represented in homeless shelters requires an examination of the longstanding and inter-related social and structural issues facing the black community.

As the report noted, and CNN.com highlighted in its analysis of the report, in 2009, the median wealth of white households was 20 times that of blacks ($113,149 versus $5,677). Financial assets serve as a crucial buffer in times of economic hardship, covering unexpected health expenses and preventing loss of housing when unemployed. Access to additional funds improves living conditions at present and during retirement. Intergenerational wealth transfers can enhance the economic circumstances of younger relatives, for example through investments in children’s education, inheritances, and monetary gifts.

Lower educational attainment among blacks, in particular black males, is a barrier to gaining any employment and especially to qualifying for jobs in well-compensated sectors. Black males earn bachelor’s degrees or higher at half the rate of white males (15.6 percent compared to 32 percent). Employment disparities rooted in subtle forms of discrimination persist even with educational advancement.

In 2010, blacks with an associate degree experienced a higher unemployment rate than whites with a high school diploma (10.8 percent and 9.5 percent, respectively). Furthermore, a male black employee with a bachelor’s degree or higher was paid one-quarter (25.4 percent) less on average in weekly full-time salary ($1,010) in 2010 compared to a male white worker ($1,354) with the same level of education.

And throughout U.S. history, housing discrimination has been ever-present, both in the form of official government policies and societal attitudes. Federal policies that reduced the stock of affordable housing through urban renewal projects displaced a disproportionate number of poor blacks living concentrated in cities to other substandard urban neighborhoods.

Residential segregation, which affects black households to a greater extent than other minorities, perpetuates poverty patterns by isolating blacks in areas that lack employment opportunities and services, and experience higher crime and poverty rates. Blacks are also overrepresented in the criminal justice system, which increases the risk of homelessness and developmental delays among affected children.

This report raises the question of why family homelessness is a racial issue. This phenomenon is not new, but is rarely discussed. Although government-sanctioned racial discrimination may be a relic of the past, the finding that blacks are overrepresented in shelter when compared to whites demonstrates that blacks continue to face prejudice and substantial access barriers to decent employment, education, health care, and housing not experienced by whites.

but please white people, continue to tell me that white privilege doesn’t exist because of white homelessness. yea, you’re making total sense when you utter such bullshit.


Sunderwala Burj, before and after Conservation by Aga Khan Trust for Culture. Inappropriate repair works through the 20th century have reduced many of our important monuments to a caricature of their formal self / as the original builders intended them to be. For more information, please visit, Nizamuddin Urban Renewal Project.

Taken from Nizamuddin Basti Urban Renewal Initiative Facebook page.


The Baghdad Urban Renewal Project by the Architecture and Planning Partnership, Ove Arup, Ricardo Bofill, and Richard England in 1982. The architects were invited by Rifat Chadirji to find solutions for the deterioration of Baghdad’s historical districts. The project identified two areas of preservation which were Bab el-Sheikh and Al Kazimiya. Traditional structures would be salvaged and restored while empty spaces and unattractive modern buildings would be cleared for new buildings built in a simplified and modernized style of their older counterparts. They mirror the iconic Iraqi shanisheel as well as central courtyards to serve as natural systems of ventilation. This was an attempt to make the ideal modern house out of traditional Arab structure. Commercial spaces would contain arcades and squares varying in size. Observations were made on how to target urban decay and re-energize the neighborhoods which is challenging in the modern era with Arab urban planning, a layout comprised of narrow streets cut by twisting alleys. The original urban landscape would have been maintained with the addition of public green space, an aspect of planning that is usually ignored in Arab cityscapes. Main arteries would connect new commercial areas with the residential interiors of the neighborhoods, relieving congestion and allowing for better traffic flow between districts. If built, the project would have revived two important old neighborhoods which have been left to become dilapidated today with many of its traditional structures destroyed or in ruin. 

The Racist History of Portland, the Whitest City in America
It’s known as a modern-day hub of progressivism. but its past is one of exclusion.
By Alana Semuels

.. many African Americans in Portland say they’re not surprised when they hear about racial incidents in this city and state. That’s because racism has been entrenched in Oregon, maybe more than any state in the north, for nearly two centuries. When the state entered the union in 1859, for example, Oregon explicitly forbade black people from living in its borders, the only state to do so. In more recent times, the city repeatedly undertook “urban renewal” projects (such as the construction of Legacy Emanuel Hospital) that decimated the small black community that existed here. And racism persists today. A 2011 audit found that landlords and leasing agents here discriminated against black and Latino renters 64 percent of the time, citing them higher rents or deposits and adding on additional fees. In area schools, African American students are suspended and expelled at a rate four to five times higher than that of their white peers.

All in all, historians and residents say, Oregon has never been particularly welcoming to minorities. Perhaps that’s why there have never been very many. Portland is the whitest big city in America, with a population that is 72.2 percent white and only 6.3 percent African American.

“I think that Portland has, in many ways, perfected neoliberal racism,” Walidah Imarisha, an African American educator and expert on black history in Oregon, told me. Yes, the city is politically progressive, she said, but its government has facilitated the dominance of whites in business, housing, and culture. And white-supremacist sentiment is not uncommon in the state. Imarisha travels around Oregon teaching about black history, and she says neo-Nazis and others spewing sexually explicit comments or death threats frequently protest her events.


Mies van der Rohe, Lafayette Park Housing Project, (1959)

Lafayette Park, just northeast of downtown Detroit, is a 78-acre housing development designed and realized by Mies van der Rohe. The first urban renewal project in the United States, it was founded by developer Herb Greenwald to help keep the middle class in the city. Alfred Caldwell, Mies’ longtime collaborator, did all landscape design on the project, and Ludwig Hilberseimer handled the urban design (in the only professional collaboration between Hilberseimer and Mies).

The complex is a collection of one- and two- story townhomes, a small neighborhood shopping center, and two high-rises set adjacent to a 19-acre municipally-operated park also called Lafayette Park. The buildings are planned along three roadways that enter the development from the west. Mies planned for Lafayette Park to embrace the automobile from the beginning—after all, Detroit is the Motor City. However, he does not show off the parking areas, instead sinking them about four feet below the level of the sidewalks and laws of the townhomes. A resident peering out of the floor-to-ceiling windows of his unit would scarcely be able to see them.

Some of the land around the townhomes themselves is carefully left as green space to serve as a passive recreation area for the children who live there. The development is adjacent to a public elementary school, one of Detroit’s best, and Mies carefully designed the circulation of Lafayette Park to allow children to get from their townhome to school without having to cross a street.