Open Thread: The Tragedy of Urban Renewal

President Harry Truman signed the Housing Act in 1949, giving unprecedented power to federal, state, and local governments to reshape entire communities through the abuse of eminent domain. One method of doing so was called urban renewal, which permitted governments to destroy communities they deemed as slums, destroying approximately 2000 communities through the 1950s and '60s, and forcing 300,000 families out of their homes, often most affecting blacks.

One of the first examples of urban renewal was the destruction of six blocks of "slum" on the Upper West Side of New York. The valuable land was then contracted to private developers hand-picked by the city: members of Democratic political clubs, given as political favors, to build middle-class housing developments. With little financial incentive to build quickly, though, the buildings often sat vacant for years.

ReasonTV put together a video telling the story of the destruction of this New York City neighborhood. Check out the video after the break, and let us know your thoughts in the comments.

As Reason explains,

Designating West 99th and 98th Streets a "slum" was bitterly ironic. The community was founded when the great black real estate entrepreneur Philip Payton Jr. broke the color line on 99th Street in 1905. Payton, also credited with first bringing African Americans to Harlem, wanted to make it possible for a black man to rent an apartment, in his words, "wherever his means will permit him to live."

A couple years after Payton moved his first tenants into West 99th and 98th Streets, the black orator Roscoe Conkling Simmon marveled that African Americans for the first time were living in "the most beautiful and cultured neighborhood in New York City...because back of them stands organized and sympathetic capital."

Fifty years later, the federal bulldozer tore that neighborhood apart.

Do you see similarities in the government abusing its powers today with cases like Solyndra?

NB Staff
NB Staff