SPECIAL EDITION: Revisiting Urban Renewal


Karol R. Williams, M.Arch


Independent scholar, architect, guest editor


special edition, Urban Renewal, Revisiting Urban Renewal
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In announcing the 2023 annual Docomomo US theme of Revisiting Urban Renewal, Executive Director Liz Waytkus spoke of “seeking to revisit and better understand the complexity of the projects that were built, their significance, positive and negative impacts, and their legacy today.” She went on to explain that many strategies have had a “vastly negative impact on historically underrepresented communities, ended up decimating downtowns, and destroyed significant historic urban fabric.”

As guest editor of this newsletter - and a current District of Columbia resident of one of the 1963 cooperatives that was built as part of the 1945 Redevelopment Land Agency - I’m pleased to share the following five articles and three video recordings that help us understand and address the role of community and socio-political influences on the design of our cities and towns. The range and breadth of these articles and recordings is extensive:

  • In Root Shock 20, Mindy Thompson Fullilove, along with her daughter Molly Rose Kaufman and Douglas Farrand, revisit Mindy’s historic 2004 work Root Shock: How Tearing Up City Neighborhoods Hurts America, and What We Can Do About It, exploring the long term consequences of urban renewal in Black neighborhoods. They provide excerpts on residents of Roanoke, Virginia and offer thoughts for today and the future.

  • Lizabeth Cohen brings awareness to urban planner Ed Logue with her article, From Renewal Czar of New Haven to Collaborative Colleague in the South Bronx. She offers an excerpt from her 2019 book Saving America’s Cities: Ed Logue and the Struggle to Renew Urban America in the Suburban Age.

  • In Selling Urban Renewal: A Model Approach, David Hochfelder, Ann Pfau and Stacy Sewell focus on how New York State “public officials launched marketing and public relations campaigns to convince the increasingly skeptical public.” Architectural models, maps and renderings were utilized to illustrate the advantages of replacing outdated homes and infrastructure.

  • Brian Lee looks internationally to France and Sweden in Subject to Change: Experiments in the Rehabilitation of European Public Housing. He evaluates Lacaton and Vassal’s Cite du Gard Parc in Bordeaux, France that emphasizes transformation over demolition. He goes on to describe the process that Stockholm-based architects Spridd brings to the “stakeholders” mindsets.”

  • My article entitled Uncovering the Archives: Displacement in Southwest DC 1939-2023 illustrates how displacement in the smallest quadrant of the District of Columbia continues through today. I bring the perspective of living in one of the SW DC cooperatives that displaced over 20,000 residents and businesses in the 1950-60s. For the first time, digitized architectural/site models and photographs are being shared from the National Building Museum’s Collection Department.

The following three presentations, originally given in person at the 2023 Docomomo US National Symposium in New Haven, are being made available for free. They were particularly compelling talks and help fill a geographic gap from the five articles above. 

  • Museums of the Future: How Redevelopment Shaped San Francisco's Public Art; Hannah Simonson

    This presentation examines the historic context and legacy of the San Francisco Redevelopment Agency’s contributions to the city’s public art and open spaces. In many ways, the agency’s early projects in the 1960s through 1980s were a proving ground for how percent-for-art programs could benefit the city, although these benefits were not seen equitably across the city. The presentation further discusses challenges for the ongoing maintenance and preservation of these artworks, as well as positive actions being taken toward documentation and long-term planning for stewardship and interpretation.

  • Activating: Communities and Anti-Highway Protest Along Southwest Corridor [Boston]; Mary Hale

    Hale discusses the multiple agents involved in the making and management of Ruggles Station to better understand the degree to which this project can be understood as one element of a larger contested urban landscape.

  • An Oasis for the Privileged Few: Urban Renewal as Reported by The Chicago Defender; Lisa Napoles

    The Chicago Defender newspaper was founded by Robert Sengstacke Abbott in 1905. Focusing on the day to day lives of Black Chicagoans, the weekly covered news, politics, and culture. The Defender took a firm stance against the racial, social, and economic injustice experienced by Black Americans. As a result, the newspaper grew in renown, and was distributed far beyond Chicago, including by Black Pullman porters who worked on the Illinois Central Railroad, which ran between Chicago and New Orleans. This presentation sets aside the dominant historical narrative of urban renewal in Chicago and focuses instead on the Chicago Defender’s reporting of how the interventions of the University of Chicago and city government impacted the lives of Black residents in Hyde Park. 

Thank you to the authors, symposium recording presenters, Michele Racioppi, Kimberly Phillips, and Liz Waytkus of Docomomo US; Nancy Bateman, Tim Chung, Bryn Cooley and Katy Zottoli of the National Building Museum's Collections Department.