The narrative of mid-century urban renewal is not unfamiliar; under the guise of slum clearance, vast tracts of America's architectural heritage were razed with entire communities (often of color) displaced and warehoused in deleterious expanses of public housing. There is no dearth of imagery or literature stemming from the era, ranging from Jane Jacobs's grassroots campaign against the all-powerful Robert Moses to the implosion of St. Louis's infamous Pruitt-Igoe tower blocks. However, often missing from dialogue on the subject is the integral role that federal policy and financing played in the reshaping of the American city, specifically outside of major metropolitan centers. Opened in early October at New York's Center for Architecture, the MASS Design Group-curated exhibition Fringe Cities: Legacies of Renewal in the Small American City, is an impressive historical and photographic survey examining the scope and rationale of urban renewal efforts across 100 "fringe" cities—defined as a small urban area with under 150,000 residents located at least 30 miles away from a major metropolitan center, which, are in many circumstances, still attempting to ameliorate conditions cemented by mid-century planning. The exhibition opens with a broad outline of federal urban policy over the course of the ongoing century, roughly beginning with programs associated with Franklin D. Roosevelt's New Deal, then the plateau and decline of national funding and policy following Lyndon B. Johnson's Great Society, and present day's irregular growth cycles, facilitated by lopsided regulation. Strengthening the linear narrative of the timeline is a collection of renderings and illustrations produced by contemporaneous architects and designers depicting idyllic post-clearance scenes, tools to convince a skeptical public of the supposed extensive benefits of urban renewal. The strongest curatorial tool at the initial juncture of the exhibition are aerial images of 42 of the MASS-identified "Fringe Cities," overlaid with blotches of red that highlight areas slated for demolition and reconstruction in the strain of automobile-centric developments and zoning. This method—which is similar to cartography appraising the damage of World War II bombing campaigns—effectively conveys the disproportionate scalar impact such efforts placed on small urban centers, which in many circumstances altered them beyond recognition within the span of a few years. For the purposes of the exhibition, MASS honed in on four specific case studies: Easton, Pennsylvania; Saginaw, Michigan; Spartanburg, South Carolina, and Poughkeepsie, New York. "Being urban in form but offset from more diverse economic centers, these places were particularly ill-equipped to design, administer, and implement meaningful redevelopment strategies, and they were less resilient economically to rebuild in its wake," said MASS Design Group associate Morgan O'Hara. "Urban America was not always as polarized as we see today, and it is an important narrative to understand these changes, and the role of both policy and design decisions in contributing to the disinvestment of these Fringe Cities." If the first floor of the exhibition is geared towards a top-down perspective of urban renewal, the second-half of Fringe Cities brings the topic to street-level with a collection of historic photographs of long lost downtowns juxtaposed with desolate contemporary scenes. One significant inclusion is that of Iwan Baan's extensive imagery from Poughkeepsie. More importantly, MASS effectively dives into the work that grass-roots organizations have done, in lieu of federal, state, or even municipal funding, reversing or at least halting the economic and demographic decline that the selected cities have experienced for decades. On this final note, MASS presents the current urban moment as both a challenge and opportunity for architects and designers that requires community engagement to avoid the pitfalls of heavy-handed planning. O'Hara concluded, "In order to accomplish this, it is imperative that designers reach beyond their precise contracted purview to create effective community partnerships, as an outgrowth of this critical understanding: that designers cannot understand or attend to the full range of local needs without embedded, long term community decision making." Fringe Cities: Legacies of Renewal in the Small American City Center for Architecture 536 LaGuardia New York, New York Through January 18, 2020
Posts tagged with "urban renewal":
Developed by the University of Richmond’s Digital Scholarship Lab and released in December 2017, Renewing Inequality is an interactive, online project that maps the demographic profiles and footprints of thousands of urban renewal projects between 1950 and 1966. Using such resources as the federal government’s Urban Renewal Project Characteristics, Renewing Inequality reveals the sweeping scope of urban renewal, which razed entire neighborhoods during the era, as well as the disproportionate impact they had on the country’s African-American communities. Renewing Inequality follows an earlier project released by the Digital Scholarship Lab in 2016, called Mapping Inequality, which details neighborhoods deemed too risky for investment and set on a course of institutionalized neglect and decay. Actively fueling the process of decay was the policy of redlining, which in effect barred communities of color from seeking mortgages or financing to repair their properties. With a cycle of decay institutionalized, these same neighborhoods were prime targets for urban renewal. Beginning in the 1950s, the federal government actively reshaped American cities through urban renewal, based on then-contemporary priorities in use zoning, residential density, automobile usage and highway construction. Equipped with billions of dollars in federal funding, local governments applied eminent domain to displace hundreds of thousands of families across the country, deeming long-standing neighborhoods as “blighted” land unfit for habitation. Ostensibly, relocation assistance and public housing were meant to follow "slum clearance" but in many circumstances, relocation funding or housing never materialized. Not only were homeowners forced into becoming renters, but much of the compensation given in exchange for eminent domain seizure was based on undervaluations of those properties. For example, the Digital Scholarship Lab highlights Cincinnati’s Kenyon-Barr/Queensgate as the largest urban renewal project in national history, displacing approximately 5,000 families. The map highlights that approximately 97 percent of those displaced were people of color, and also reveals that this predominantly minority community was adjacent to Cincinnati’s Central Business District, a focal point for white, suburban office workers–a trend in the displacement taking place in a number of American cities. As noted by the Digital Scholarship Lab, the land seized from many of the impacted African American neighborhoods "was re-purposed for commercial or industrial development or to make way for highways,” an act of “intergenerational wealth theft that helped shape today’s profound inequality” along racial lines. While the wholesale demolition of inner-city neighborhoods is much more uncommon today, large swaths of historic housing stock are currently being razed under the guise of alleviating housing pressure. However, as noted by CityLab, urban areas of older, mid-size housing boast greater affordability and employment opportunities than their modern counterparts, limited as they are by contemporary zoning and uses. It seems we still have a lot to learn from the lessons of urban renewal.
On December 26, commercial developers Bedrock Detroit released conceptual drawings for its proposed incorporation of Albert Kahn's decaying and vacant National Theatre into their $800 million Monroe Blocks redevelopment. According to The Detroit News, the project would add a 35-story office tower and four mixed-use buildings within the city center. Kahn designed the Moorish Revival-Beaux Arts hybrid National Theatre in 1911, but the structure was abandoned in 1975. While the building has been allowed to decay, it remains the last in Detroit’s historic theatre district. The ongoing struggle to reverse Detroit’s economic fortunes has led to an increasing appreciation of historic structures within the city, as demonstrated by the ongoing restoration work of the Shinola Hotel, and the Albert Khan and Fisher Buildings. A critical asset behind Detroit’s renewal is the preservation of its architectural past. Although the development of unused land within the city center has few opponents, Detroit News reports that only the white-glazed terra-cotta facade and gold-domed towers of the National Theatre building will be preserved by Bedrock Detroit. This leaves the rest of the theatre space subject to demolition. Additionally, the facade will be dismantled piece by piece while undergoing restoration, and will subsequently be returned to a location within the Bedrock’s redevelopment scheme. While Preservation Detroit has voiced support for the Monroe Blocks redevelopment, the organization has expressed concern that only saving the facade compromises the district’s history and removes an opportunity to restore the existing building within the development. Bedrock is presently involved in a number of ambitious projects in Detroit, such as the restoration of the iconic Book Building and the development of SHoP Architects-designed 1206 Woodward Avenue. For now, the restored facade of the National Theatre will only serve as a pedestrian portal for the upcoming project.
On October 13, 1965, the New York Times ran a piece of architecture criticism on its front page, above the fold, spanning five out of seven columns. The writer was Ada Louise Huxtable, and the topic was the looming decimation of downtown Salem, Massachusetts—near Huxtable’s summer home in Marblehead. “Urban Renewal Threatens Historic Buildings in Salem, Mass.,” read the headline. “Foes Fear Plans Will Mar Old New England Heritage.” Those were the dark years between the demolition of New York’s Penn Station in 1963 and passage of the National Historic Preservation Act in 1966. Huxtable offered Salem as a case study for the postwar urban-renewal movement that leveled “blighted” communities in favor of highways, garages, parking lots, and new construction, all generally discordant in style and scale. Despite a lack of interest from developers, Salem aimed to demolish 82 percent (39 acres) of the buildings in its historic core. “Across the country, the battle between history and the slipping tax base is on,” Huxtable wrote. But the “conditions, assumptions, and values that make the bulldozer seem the only practical tool” were empty, including the “conservatism and shortsightedness of local commercial interests.” The piece struck nerves nationwide. Within ten years, Salem’s administration had changed, the plan had died, and Salem had launched a public-private program to restore facades, renovate interiors, and improve landscaping and circulation. In 1974 and ‘75, Huxtable wrote follow-up stories, “How Salem Saved Itself from Urban Renewal” and “Good News From the Witch of Salem.” The 50th anniversary of her pivotal piece inspired a symposium held Friday, September 25 at Salem’s Peabody Essex Museum, “ Mightier Than a Wrecking Ball: How Ada Louise Huxtable Saved Salem.” Co-sponsored by Historic Salem, Inc., the Peabody Essex Museum, and Historic New England, the event was conceived in part by Ed Nilsson, a Salem architect who had worked with Huxtable on modifications to her 1958 ranch in Marblehead. Following a short film on Huxtable’s local impact, four speakers shared different perspectives. Christopher Hawthorne, of the Los Angeles Times—whom Huxtable, near the end of her life, called the best architecture critic in the country—broadened the context in his keynote address. Thanks to urban renewal, he said, “We’re still trying to recover from the radical remaking of the landscape” in downtown Los Angeles. Hawthorne called for a change in the 50-year mark of a building’s maturity, as the digital age is having a “profound impact on the speed with which we forget about and rediscover” architectural movements. Preservation advocates, he argued, need to “get ahead of the curve of popular taste, and that means...talking now not about the ‘60s or even the ‘70s, but the 1980s and even the 1990s.” For longtime Huxtable fans, Eric Gibson, arts and culture editor at the Wall Street Journal, delivered a rare treat: scenes from the process of working with “Ada Louise.” Being her editor, he quipped, was “the closest thing to a sinecure...in contemporary journalism.” After an anecdote about touring the George Washington Bridge Bus Station with the elegant octogenarian, Gibson traced the groundwork for her blistering 2012 critique of the proposed renovation of the New York Public Library. “She wanted to make sure the tone was absolutely right,” he emphasized. “She didn’t want to come across as shooting from the hip.” Even so, the story exploded, and, like her original Salem piece, it “shifted the ground of the debate.” Huxtable died a month later, and the library killed the project the following year. Elizabeth Padjen, FAIA, founder and former editor of ArchitectureBoston magazine, presented a balanced history of Salem’s urban-renewal effort. Reminding the crowd that fear and distrust of cities ran deep in the 1950s, she used archival photos to show how troubled Salem had become: Old Town Hall (1816) was surrounded by boarded-up buildings, and “even the bars were closing.” Models of the renewal plan showed how overwhelmingly destructive it would have been, and how poorly it would have been executed. Spotlighting the arrival of the right professionals at the right time, Padjen narrated Salem’s resurgence, over the course of the 1970s, into a place that “celebrates its heritage.” Donovan Rypkema, principal of the Washington, D.C.–based consultancy PlaceEconomics, made an animated case that bolstering a city’s tax base does not, in fact, mean replacing old buildings with new construction. Historic districts, he argued, have economic attributes that can be counterintuitive. If well maintained, they are consistently popular places to live; their density packs more taxpayers into a given area; and they draw “heritage visitors,” who are known to spend well in local businesses. Carl Nold, president and CEO of Historic New England, moderated a panel discussion on preservation and economic development. Throughout the afternoon, Huxtable’s legacy was honored with intelligence and affection. “Her writing effected change,” Gibson said, “preventing catastrophic and irreversible destruction to our architectural heritage and quality of life.”
Painting Palmitas: Artists in Mexico cover an entire hillside village in one enormous psychedelic mural
Pachuca, Mexico is hoping a psychedelic mural can cement the transformation of a once crime-stricken neighborhood to a safer, more unified community. The government-sponsored urban renewal project, called El Macro Mural Barrio de Palmitas, coated over 200 hillside dwellings in a vibrant layer of paint with striking results. The government teamed up with a local graffiti collective, Germen Crew, to create the hillside mural, bringing in local residents to help with the project. The project encompassed an estimated 65,000 square feet of facade in all, transforming the once unembellished exteriors with multicolored swirls in rainbow hues. Up close, the village streets appear coated in large blocks of color, but from a distance, the mural takes its unified form, cascading from roof to roof to create a striking image. “We are trying to create a movement,” said Germen Crew in a recent interview, “We are taking into account the history of the colony but also its present, its people. And when you come to the streets, you'll find the identity of the place, but the idea is also to create an iconic place for everything Pachuca.” Germen Crew's paintings intend to preserve the community’s culture and are created in a way that provokes a more positive outlook. “We are making the world we want to live in, a world where you work and offer talents for the benefit of the common good,” stated Mybe, co-founder of Germen Crew.
More than 50 years after its construction, the single-largest collection of Ludwig Mies van der Rohe's built work is now a national landmark. The National Park Service on Tuesday designated Detroit's Lafayette Park its 2,564th National Historic Landmark, validating the efforts of the Michigan State Historic Preservation Office, which began the documentation and nomination process in 2012. Quinn Evans Architects of Ann Arbor led those efforts as part of the preservation group's Michigan Modern Project. A collection of buildings in the now-ubiquitous International Style, Lafayette Park first cut its steel-and-glass silhouette across the Detroit skyline in 1959 with the completion of the Pavilion Apartments. More structures followed, including some which still command high rents today. As reports the Detroit Free Press:
The two-story Mies Townhouses are some of the more desirable pieces of real estate in Detroit, routinely fetching $150,000-$200,000 a pop for the three-bedroom, one-and-a-half bath units. The twin Lafayette Towers were added to the skyline in 1963. There are also a number of other buildings in the development designed by other architects, though they all follow Mies' lead.The buildings received their landmark status in part for their racial integration—a rare example of urban renewal done right, according to Ruth Mills, architectural historian for Quinn Evans. Again, the Free Press' Dan Austin:
Indeed, U.S. Rep. "Charles Diggs, (Judge) Wade McCree, Judge George Crockett and others all lived in Lafayette Park," said Ken Coleman, an author and expert on black history in Detroit. "Even Berry Gordy had a condo there by 1965."
Seven years after the Cincinnati Center City Development Corporation embarked on its resuscitation of downtown’s signature Fountain Square, a vacant 86-year-old tower one block away is getting a $27.3 million makeover. The former home of the Cincinnati Enquirer, the 14-story building will now house 12,000 square feet of street-level retail and a 238-room hotel. Once slated for condos, the limestone tower will instead be downtown’s fifth largest hotel, bringing the total number of rooms downtown to more than 3,000. Cincinnati’s finance committee approved $7 million in tax abatements over 12 years for the project. SREE Hotels will invest in the construction—its first in the Midwest—but may find another hotel chain to operate the business. The investment is part of a growing wave of renewal throughout Cincinnati’s urban core, driven by private interests, municipal support, and a resurgent interest in downtowns throughout the Midwest.
After an earthquake and tsunami devastated the Sendai region of Japan on March 11, 2011, a lengthy recovery and rebuilding is underway. This is the basis for Nanako Umemoto and Jesse Reiser's "SUPERJURY," a collaboration between Princeton University, Tokyo University, Osaka Sangyo University, California College of the Arts, Tsinghua University, and Nagoya Institute of Technology. It explores large-scale reconstruction solutions which mediate between occasionally conflicting political interests of infrastructure construction, economic redevelopment, and memorialization of the site. Serving as inspiration was the utopian planning of Japanese Metabolism that addressed the destruction of WWII Japan, a situation similar to the devastation of the Sendai region. All parties convened at Princeton's School of Architecture on Tuesday, May 15 for a "science fair" of their research findings and proposals. The political, social, and cultural "cross-contamination" that is fostered by this type of collaboration breeds new ideas and addresses the specific issue more sensitively. But it also offeres a new model for an architecture studio. Rather than a unilateral critique by a jury of experts, this format permitted an open dialogue between students and faculty, which not only incorporated a group of diverse viewpoints, but also a local cultural sensitivity which is often missing in global projects where the site is thousands of miles away from the designer. For instance, people in Sendai are more interested in creating a memorial for the nearly 15,000 dead or missing. This cultural sensitivity could be easily overlooked by a simple studio project, but the network of schools offers multiple viewpoints, and thus new understandings. The studio prompts the question, what is large-scale? Is it top-down planning from nothing? Or is a system of smaller-scale objects that grow out into a networked system? Some proposals were large-scale infrastructural projects, others were memorials, and others mediated between the two by exploring how time could change the site. It could start as memorial, but transition, or grow, into a more utopian project of infrastructure. This is a rethinking of the original concept of Metabolism, one which proposed utopian visions based on single-family units that were then replicated and repeated. Unfortunately, the Metabolist approach still ended in top-down plans, simply focused on the small-scale as a departure point to Corbusian masterplanning. The SUPERJURY studios looked to return to Metabolism's roots, and proposed ground-up plans which could grow organically over time with all the social, political, and cultural thinking that Metabolism's rhetoric possessed, but that the work lacked. The explorations mainly focused on future energy systems, future water systems, and developmental expansion in the large-scale infrastructural landscape. Natural ecological systems, as well as past utopian projects such as Kenzo Tange's Tokyo Bay Project and Arata Isozaki's Sky City were examined as precedent. Newer developments in China and the Middle East were examined, too. All in all, the timely nature of this innovative and important studio was on ample display. Hopefully in the future, more institutions can foster this kind of networked, international collaboration.
Brooklyn-based architecture practice Bureau V unleashed a spectacular design for the Original Music Workshop, a new non-profit arts organization which will open in 2013 with a wide range of musical programming, from classical to jazz to experimental sound. Located in the heart of Williamsburg, Brooklyn, the performance center was designed in collaboration with engineering gurus Arup and features state of the art acoustical technologies. Like any good construction in Brooklyn these days, the building is a high-tech, state-of-the-art renovation of a disused industrial building on Wythe and North 6th streets, just one block from the East River. In this case, it's an acoustic performance center with a series of variable acoustic treatments that allow the space to be tuned to specific instrumentation using acoustically isolated box-in-box construction, which minimizes background noise to studio levels inside the graffitied, hollowed-out remains of a sawdust factory. The result is a sublime collision of new and old: technology and ruin, progress and history, refinement and grit. Bureau V principal Peter Zuspan explained that OMW came to them with a "two-fold request: the space needed to be both acoustically superior and a comfortable and visually compelling space, a departure from the standard black box theater.” The acoustically-driven, geometrically complex chamber hall will accomodate 170 chairs, or approximately 350 people standing. “The space is small enough to truly listen, while large enough to foster a sense of community,” said Bureau V principal Alexander Pincus. Because of its acoustical performance features, the space can double as a recording studio for up to 70 performers. For construction photos, click here.
A new documentary called The Pruitt-Igoe Myth by Chad Friedrichs seeks to capture the life of St. Louis' infamous housing project through the lens of the people who lived there. The film looks beyond the iconic images of its implosion and offers an analysis of urban renewal's impact locally and across the nation. From the movie's web site:
The Pruitt-Igoe Myth tells the story of the transformation of the American city in the decades after World War II, through the lens of the infamous Pruitt-Igoe housing development and the St. Louis residents who called it home. At the film’s historical center is an analysis of the massive impact of the national urban renewal program of the 1950s and 1960s, which prompted the process of mass suburbanization and emptied American cities of their residents, businesses, and industries.The 83-minute film will be premiering February 11-13 at the Oxford Film Festival in Mississippi. No word yet when it will make it to St. Louis and beyond, but we're anxiously awaiting! [Via Preservation Research Office ]
The demolition of the Michael Reese hospital campus in Chicago, partially designed by Walter Gropius, has been put on hold until after October 2, when the International Olympic Committee (IOC) will announce the host city for the 2016 Games. Preservation groups are pushing for adaptive reuse of some of the buildings, but the city is determined to clear the site for either an Olympic Village or for private development. The delay, then, probably does not signal a victory for preservationists. It is more likely a calculated move on the part of the city and Chicago 2016 to quiet opposition until after the IOC makes its decision. (Community Media Workshop via Blair Kamin.)