Urban Villagers by Herbert J Gans Essay

Published: 2021-07-20 06:15:07
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Boston’s West End is the most well documented neighborhood destroyed by urban “renewal,” made famous initially by Herbert Gans’s book, The Urban Villagers, 1962. Although approximately 63 percent of the families displaced by urban renewal were African-American or Hispanic, this Boston community was mainly inhabited by working class Italians. It was a little piece of Italy, with narrow winding streets alive with urban social life.
Too crowded and unAmerican for the middle class tastes of City planners, it fell to the bulldozer in 1959 and was replaced by high rise, expensive apartment buildings. ————————————————It is difficult for me to isolate the impact of *URBAN VILLAGERS*. Inmy experience it was but one contribution to growing criticism of urbanrenewal in the early 1960s and, with that, the physical orientation ofurban planning that urban renewal represented. Shortly after it waspublished I was both a writing my dissertation in urban geography atClark University and a project director in urban renewal, so Iwitnessed the impact in both urban renewal planning circles and in themore academic arena.
It was part of the drum of criticism that led tothe 1966 Model Cities Act and the redefinition of urban renewal andrethinking of the field of urban planning. I think the impact of the *URBAN VILLAGERS* might best evaluated aspart of a creeping barrage of critical writing led off by Jacobs and*Death and Life . . . * in 1961. *Urban Villagers* was published in’63 and Martin Anderson weighed in from the right in ’64 with *The FederalBulldozer*.
At the same time planners such as Paul Davidoff (“Advocacyand Pluralism in Planning” JAIP, 1965) were mounting a critique withinthe field of planning. (Jay Stein’s *Classic Readings in UrbanPlanning* 1995 includes some writing from this period. ) In 1965,The National Council of Mayors published *With Heritage So Rich* whichdocumented the destruction of historic buildings caused by urban renewaland served as the mandate for the National Historic Preservation Act of1966. Although not concerned with urban renewal directly, Blake’s*God’s Own Junkyard* (1964) was a popular and graphically arrestingtreatment of the trashing of the built environment. My own memory isthat so much was being written that we were responding to the larger At the same time the Federal urban renewal program was trying to moveaway from the great emphasis on redevelopment by demolition with theinitiation of the Community Renewal Program (CRP) in 1959, which wasmore neighborhood and socially oriented. And the final element I willthrow in this stew is the Highway Act of 1962 which started themetropolitan transportation studies, the goal of which was to bring theinterstate system to cities.
Many cities such as Hartford tried tocoordinate the urban interstate system with urban renewal; elsewherethe transportation planning of the state and the local urban renewalI would say, speaking from being in the trenches at that time, that the*Urban Villagers* did not have a big direct impact on urban renewal incities but, along with others, laid the groundwork for changingprograms and practice. Urban renewal was a juggernaut, and work such asGans and others may have intensified urban renewal as its adocates andsupporters sensed they had a limited time to get their work done. Thevalue of Gans’ book was that it moved some of Jacobs’ generalizationsinto a specific neighborhood and ethnic context that could be relatedto other areas. To those of us working in Massachusetts who knew thehistory of the BRA and the North End, it was a particularly scathingI hope this helps. I would be very interested in what you find becauseI think the *Urban Villagers* has become as important for its symbolismProfessor of Urban Affairs and GeographyBibliography:me andu

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