Urban Renewal (1950s, ’60s)


Urban renewal was a nationwide program that gave cities massive federal grants to rebuild their downtowns. The goal was to keep cities economically viable as they lost large parts of their middle-class residents to the suburbs. The Housing Act of 1949 provided funds for buying and clearing “blighted” areas, usually dense industrial and residential neighborhoods. After the Housing Act of 1954, cities could use federal money not just to build new housing in cleared areas, but to pay private developers to erect highways, office buildings, and shopping malls. Many have pointed out that the program amounted to “Negro removal” because of the way it razed sometimes thriving black communities. An estimated 80% of those displaced were African American. And especially after 1954, the displaced were not properly rehoused. Less than 1% of federal spending for urban renewal went to relocation.


Photo: Site of the Boston Herald Traveler. May 23, 1958. Urban Redevelopment Division, Boston Housing Authority photographs, collection #4010.001, City of Boston Archives.
Francesca Russello Ammon. “Urban Renewal.” Encyclopedia of Greater Philadelphia. Rutgers University, 2016.
Russ Lopez. “Public Health, the APHA, and Urban Renewal.” American Journal of Public Health, 99, no.9 (2009): pp. 1603-1611.