Urban renewal, which is generally called urban regeneration ("regeneration" in the United Kingdom), "revitalization" in the United States, is a program of land redevelopment in areas of moderate to high density urban land use. Renewal has had both successes and failures. Its modern incarnation began in the late 19th century in developed nations and experienced an intense phase in the late 1940s – under the rubric of reconstruction. The process has had a major impact on many urban landscapes, and has played an important role in the history and demographics of cities around the world.
Urban renewal involves the relocation of businesses, the demolition of structures, the relocation of people, and the use of eminent domain (government purchase of property for public purpose) as a legal instrument to take private property for city-initiated development projects. This process is also carried out in rural areas, referred to as village renewal, though it may not be exactly the same in practice.
Urban renewal has been seen by proponents as an economic engine and a reform mechanism, and by critics as a mechanism for control. It may enhance existing communities, and in some cases result in the demolition of neighborhoods.
Many cities link the revitalization of the central business district and gentrification of residential neighborhoods to earlier urban renewal programs. Over time, urban renewal evolved into a policy based less on destruction and more on renovation and investment, and today is an integral part of many local governments, often combined with small and big business incentives.
The concept of urban renewal as a method for social reform emerged in England as a reaction to the increasingly cramped and unsanitary conditions of the urban poor in the rapidly industrializing cities of the 19th century. The agenda that emerged was a progressive doctrine that assumed better housing conditions would reform its residents morally and economically. Another style of reform – imposed by the state for reasons of aesthetics and efficiency – could be said to have begun in 1853, with the recruitment of Baron Haussmann by Louis Napoleon for the redevelopment of Paris.
From the 1850s onwards, the terrible conditions of the urban poor in the slums of London began to attract the attention of social reformers and philanthropists, who began a movement for social housing. The first area to be targeted was the notorious slum called the Devil's Acre near Westminster. This new movement was largely funded by George Peabody and the Peabody Trust and had a lasting impact on the urban character of Westminster.
Slum clearance began with the Rochester Buildings, on the corner of Old Pye Street and Perkin's Rent, which were built in 1862 by the merchant William Gibbs. They are one of the earliest large-scale philanthropic housing developments in London. The Rochester Buildings were sold to the Peabody Trust in 1877 and later become known as Blocks A to D of the Old Perkin's Rents Estate. Angela Burdett-Coutts, 1st Baroness Burdett-Coutts funded an experimental social housing estate, among the first of its kind, on the corner of Columbia Road and Old Pye Street (now demolished). In 1869 the Peabody Trust built one of its first housing estates at Brewer's Green, between Victoria Street and St. James's Park. What remained of the Devil's Acre on the other side of Victoria Street was cleared and further Peabody estates were built after the Cross Act of 1875.
In 1882, the Peabody Trust built the Abbey Orchard Estate on former marshland at the corner of Old Pye Street and Abbey Orchard Street. Like many of the social housing estates, the Abbey Orchard Estate was built following the square plan concept. Blocks of flats were built around a courtyard, creating a semi-private space within the estate functioning as recreation area. The courtyards were meant to create a community atmosphere and the blocks of flats were designed to allow sunlight into the courtyards. The blocks of flats were built using high-quality brickwork and included architectural features such as lettering, glazing, fixtures and fittings. The estates built in the area at the time were considered model dwellings and included shared laundry and sanitary facilities, innovative at the time, and fireplaces in some bedrooms. The design was subsequently repeated in numerous other housing estates in London.
State intervention was first achieved with the passage of the Public Health Act of 1875 through Parliament. The Act focused on combating filthy urban living conditions that were the cause of disease outbreaks. It required all new residential construction to include running water and an internal drainage system and also prohibited the construction of shoddy housing by building contractors.
The London County Council was created in 1889 as the municipal authority in the County of London and in 1890 the Old Nichol in the East End of London was declared a slum and the Council authorized its clearance and the rebuilding of an area of some 15-acre (61,000 m2), including the Nichol and Snow estates, and a small piece on the Shoreditch side of Boundary Street, formally Cock Lane. The slum clearance began in 1891 and included 730 houses inhabited by 5,719 people. The LCC architects designed 21 and Rowland Plumbe two of 23 blocks containing between 10 and 85 tenements each. A total of 1,069 tenements, mostly two or three-roomed, were planned to accommodate 5,524 persons. The project was hailed as setting "new aesthetic standards for housing the working classes" and included a new laundry, 188 shops, and 77 workshops. Churches and schools were preserved. Building for the project began in 1893 and it was opened by the Prince of Wales in 1900. Other such schemes in the 1880s, where newly cleared sites were sold on to developers, included Whitechapel, Wild Street, Whitecross Street and Clerkenwell.
The 1917 Tudor Walters Committee Report into the provision of housing and post-war reconstruction in the United Kingdom, was commissioned by Parliament as a response to the shocking lack of fitness amongst many recruits during the War; this was attributed to poor living conditions, a belief summed up in a housing poster of the period "you cannot expect to get an A1 population out of C3 homes".
The report's recommendations, coupled with a chronic housing shortage after the First World War led to a government-led program of house building with the slogan 'Homes for Heroes'. Christopher Addison, the Minister for Housing at the time was responsible for the drafting of the Housing, Town Planning, &c. Act 1919 which introduced the new concept of the state being involved in the building of new houses. This marked the start of a long 20th century tradition of state-owned housing, which would much later evolve into council estates.
With the onset of the Great Depression in 1929, increased house building and government expenditure was used to pull the country out of recession. The Housing Act of 1930 gave local councils wide ranging powers to demolish properties unfit for human habitation or that posed a danger to health, and obligated them to rehouse those people who were relocated due to the large scale slum clearance programs. Cities with a large proportion of Victorian terraced housing - housing that was no longer deemed of sufficient standard for modern living requirements - underwent the greatest changes. Over 5,000 homes (25,000 residents) in the city of Bristol were designated as redevelopment areas in 1933 and slated for demolition. Although efforts were made to house the victims of the demolitions in the same area as before, in practice this was too difficult to fully implement and many people were rehoused in other areas, even different cities. In an effort to rehouse the poorest people affected by redevelopment, the rent for housing was set at an artificially low level, although this policy also only achieved mixed success.
Large scale urban renewal projects in the US started in the interwar period. Prototype urban renewal projects include the design and construction of Central Park in New York and the 1909 Plan for Chicago by Daniel Burnham. Similarly, the efforts of Jacob Riis in advocating for the demolition of degraded areas of New York in the late 19th century was also formative. The redevelopment of large sections of New York City and New York State by Robert Moses between the 1930s and the 1970s was a notable and prominent example of urban redevelopment. Moses directed the construction of new bridges, highways, housing projects, and public parks.
Other cities across the USA began to create redevelopment programs in the late 1930s and 1940s. These early projects were generally focused on slum clearance and were implemented by local public housing authorities, which were responsible both for clearing slums and for building new affordable housing. In 1944, the GI Bill (officially the Serviceman's Readjustment Act) guaranteed Veterans Administration (VA) mortgages to veterans under favorable terms, which fueled suburbanization after the end of World War II, as places like Levittown, New York, Warren, Michigan and the San Fernando Valley of Los Angeles were transformed from farmland into cities occupied by tens of thousands of families in a few years.
The Housing Act of 1949 kick-started the "urban renewal" program that would reshape American cities. The Act provided federal funding to cities to cover the cost of acquiring areas of cities perceived to be "slums". Those sites were then given to private developers to construct new housing. The phrase used at the time was "urban redevelopment". "Urban renewal" was a phrase popularized with the passage of the Housing Act of 1954, which made these projects more enticing to developers by, among other things, providing FHA-backed mortgages.
Under the powerful influence of multimillionaire R.K. Mellon, Pittsburgh became the first major city to undertake a modern urban-renewal program in May 1950. Pittsburgh was infamous around the world as one of the dirtiest and most economically depressed cities, and seemed ripe for urban renewal. A large section of downtown at the heart of the city was demolished, converted to parks, office buildings, and a sports arena and renamed the Golden Triangle in what was universally recognized as a major success.[by whom?] Other neighborhoods were also subjected to urban renewal, but with mixed results. Some areas did improve, while other areas, such as East Liberty and the Hill District, declined following ambitious projects that shifted traffic patterns, blocked streets to vehicular traffic, isolated or divided neighborhoods with highways, and removed large numbers of ethnic and minority residents. An entire neighborhood was destroyed (to be replaced by the Civic Arena), displacing 8000 residents (most of whom were poor and black).
The term "urban renewal" was not introduced in the USA until the Housing Act was again amended in 1954. That was also the year in which the U.S. Supreme Court upheld the general validity of urban redevelopment statutes in the landmark case, Berman v. Parker.
In 1956, the Federal-Aid Highway Act gave state and federal government complete control over new highways, and often they were routed directly through vibrant urban neighborhoods—isolating or destroying many—since the focus of the program was to bring traffic in and out of the central cores of cities as expeditiously as possible and nine out of every ten dollars spent came from the federal government. This resulted in a serious degradation of the tax bases of many cities, isolated entire neighborhoods, and meant that existing commercial districts were bypassed by the majority of commuters. Segregation continued to increase as communities were displaced and many African Americans and Latinos were forced to move into public housing while some whites moved to the suburbs.
In Boston, one of the country's oldest cities, almost a third of the old city was demolished—including the historic West End—to make way for a new highway, low- and moderate-income high-rises (which eventually became luxury housing), and new government and commercial buildings. This came to be seen as a tragedy by many residents and urban planners, and one of the centerpieces of the redevelopment—Government Center—is still considered an example of the excesses of urban renewal.
In 1961, Jane Jacobs published The Death and Life of Great American Cities, one of the first—and strongest—critiques of contemporary large-scale urban renewal. However, it would still be a few years before organized movements began to oppose urban renewal. The Rondout neighborhood in Kingston, New York (on the Hudson River) was essentially destroyed by a federally funded urban renewal program in the 1960s, with more than 400 old buildings demolished, most of them historic brick structures built in the 19th century. Similarly ill-conceived urban renewal programs gutted the historic centers of other towns and cities across America in the 1950s and 1960s (for example the West End neighborhood in Boston, the downtown area of Norfolk, Virginia and the historic waterfront areas of the towns of Narragansett and Newport in Rhode Island).
By the 1970s many major cities developed opposition to the sweeping urban-renewal plans for their cities. In Boston, community activists halted construction of the proposed Southwest Expressway but only after a three-mile long stretch of land had been cleared. In San Francisco, Joseph Alioto was the first mayor to publicly repudiate the policy of urban renewal, and with the backing of community groups, forced the state to end construction of highways through the heart of the city. Atlanta lost over 60,000 people between 1960 and 1970 because of urban renewal and expressway construction, but a downtown building boom turned the city into the showcase of the New South in the 1970s and 1980s. In the early 1970s in Toronto Jacobs was heavily involved in a group which halted the construction of the Spadina Expressway and altered transport policy in that city.
Some of the policies around urban renewal began to change under President Lyndon Johnson and the War on Poverty, and in 1968, the Housing and Urban Development Act and The New Communities Act of 1968 guaranteed private financing for private entrepreneurs to plan and develop new communities. Subsequently, the Housing and Community Development Act of 1974 established the Community Development Block Grant program (CDBG) which began in earnest the focus on redevelopment of existing neighborhoods and properties, rather than demolition of substandard housing and economically depressed areas.
Currently, a mix of renovation, selective demolition, commercial development, and tax incentives is most often used to revitalize urban neighborhoods. An example of an entire eradication of a community is Africville in Halifax, Nova Scotia. Gentrification is still controversial, and often results in familiar patterns of poorer residents being priced out of urban areas into suburbs or more depressed areas of cities. Some programs, such as that administered by Fresh Ministries and Operation New Hope in Jacksonville, Florida, Hill Community Development Corporation (Hill CDC) in Pittsburgh's historic Hill District attempt to develop communities, while at the same time combining highly favorable loan programs with financial literacy education so that poorer residents may still be able to afford their restored neighborhoods.
The history of Singapore's urban renewal goes back to the time period surrounding the Second World War. Before the war, Singapore's housing environment had already been a problem. The tension of both infrastructure and housing conditions were worsened by the rapidly increasing number of the Singapore population in the 1930s. As a consequence of the war and the lack of economic development, between the 1940s to the 1950s, the previous evil of housing conditions continued to happen. As much as 240,000 squatters were placed in the Singapore during the 1950s. It was caused by the movement of migrants, especially from peninsular Malaysia and the baby boom. In mid 1959, overcrowded slums were inhabited by a big number of squatter populations, whereas these areas lacked the existence of service facilities such as sanitation.
Since the establishment of the Republic of Singapore, urban renewal has been included in the part of the national improvement policy that was urgently put in action. Before that, the 1958 master plan had already been designed to solve the city problems. However, due to the lack of urban planning experts caused by the deficiency of professional staff, criticism came from many urban practitioners. The professional team recommended by the United Nations then was asked by the government to cope with the urban renewal matters and its redevelopment plan in 1961. Based on the UN assistance report, two pilot developments were initiated in the end of 1964 by the government. These redevelopments then led to the success of Singapore's urban renewal because the government could provide sufficient amount of public housing and business areas.
In the establishment of urban renewal programmes, some difficulties were experienced by the PAP government. The obstacles came from the resistance of people who used to live in the slums and squatters. It was reported by Singapore newspapers that those people were reluctant to be replaced. This became the major problems of 1960s redevelopment schemes. Affordable land value also became one of its reasons. Another problem was that the government had to purchase the private land owned by the middle and upper society to make the land vacant and be used for redevelopment.
The Josefov neighborhood, or Old Jewish Quarter, in Prague was leveled and rebuilt in an effort at urban renewal between 1890 and 1913.
In Rio de Janeiro, the Porto Maravilha is a large-scale urban waterfront revitalization project, which covers a centrally located five million square meter area. The project aims to redevelop the port area, increasing the city center attractiveness as a whole and enhancing the city's competitiveness in the global economy. The urban renovation involves 700 km of public networks for water supply, sanitation, drainage, electricity, gas and telecom; 5 km of tunnels; 70 km of roads; 650 km² of sidewalks; 17 km of bike path; 15.000 trees; and 3 plants for sanitation treatment.
In Buenos Aires, Argentina, Puerto Madero is a known example of an urban renewal project. In the 1990s, the Argentine government decided to build a new residential and commercial district to replace city's old port and docks. More than 50 skyscrapers have been built in the last 20 years. Puerto Madero is now Buenos Aires' most expensive and exclusive neighborhood.
Other programs, such as that in Castleford in the UK and known as The Castleford Project seek to establish a process of urban renewal which enables local citizens to have greater control and ownership of the direction of their community and the way in which it overcomes market failure. This supports important themes in urban renewal today, such as participation, sustainability and trust – and government acting as advocate and 'enabler', rather than an instrument of command and control.
During the 1990s the concept of culture-led regeneration gained ground. Examples most often cited as successes include Temple Bar in Dublin where tourism was attracted to a bohemian 'cultural quarter', Barcelona where the 1992 Olympics provided a catalyst for infrastructure improvements and the redevelopment of the water front area, and Bilbao where the building of a new art museum was the focus for a new business district around the city's derelict dock area. The approach has become very popular in the UK due to the availability of lottery funding for capital projects and the vibrancy of the cultural and creative sectors. However, the arrival of Tate Modern in the London borough of Southwark may be heralded as a catalyst to economic revival in its surrounding neighborhood.
In post-apartheid South Africa major grassroots social movements such as the Western Cape Anti-Eviction Campaign and Abahlali baseMjondolo emerged to contest 'urban renewal' programs that forcibly relocated the poor out of the cities.
The politics of urban renewal which frequently relies on the state's dominance in the discourse of removing the character and infrastructure of older city cores, with that which is required by existing market based constituents has to be examined further. Professor Kenneth Paul Tan of the National University of Singapore has this to say "Singapore’s self-image of having achieved success against all odds puts tremendous pressure on its government and people to maintain and exceed this success. The push for progress and development destroys many things in its path, often indiscriminately, sometimes unwittingly. To cope psychically with such losses, Singapore’s culture of comfort and affluence has been attained through the self-mastery of repressive techniques. Desiring economic progress, upward mobility, affluent and convenient lifestyles and a ‘world-class’ city."
"Singaporeans have had to repress the loss of their sense of place and community, family ties, passion and compassion, Asian customs and values, openness to the rest of the world and even the discipline, hard work and thrift associated with earlier capitalist–industrial attitudes. But no repressive efforts can be complete, consistent and fully successful, even in dominant hegemony. Therefore, the ‘now’ is always a complex and fractured world of disjunctive values, attitudes and ideals. The supernatural intrusions featured in these five films should tell us something about the impossibility of a coherent world of ideology and experience."
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Urban renewal sometimes lives up to the hopes of its original proponents – it has been assessed by politicians, urban planners, civic leaders, and residents – it has played an undeniably important role.
Additionally, urban renewal can have many positive effects. Replenished housing stock might be an improvement in quality; it may increase density and reduce sprawl; it might have economic benefits and improve the global economic competitiveness of a city's centre. It may, in some instances, improve cultural and social amenity, and it may also improve opportunities for safety and surveillance. Developments such as London Docklands increased tax revenues for government. In late 1964, the British commentator Neil Wates expressed the opinion that urban renewal in the USA had 'demonstrated the tremendous advantages which flow from an urban renewal programme,' such as remedying the 'personal problems' of the poor, creation or renovation of housing stock, educational and cultural 'opportunities'.
As many examples listed above show, urban renewal has been responsible for the rehabilitation of communities—as well as displacement. Replacement housing – particularly in the form of housing towers – might be difficult to police, leading to an increase in crime, and such structures might in themselves be dehumanising. Urban renewal is usually non-consultative. Urban renewal continues to evolve as successes and failures are examined and new models of development and redevelopment are tested and implemented.
An example of urban renewal gone wrong is in downtown Niagara Falls, New York. Most of the original downtown was demolished in the 1960s, and many replacement projects including the Rainbow Centre Factory Outlet, Niagara Falls Convention and Civic Center, the Native American Cultural Center, the Hooker Chemical (later the Occidental Petroleum) Headquarters building, the Wintergarden, the Fallsville Splash Park, a large parking ramp, an enclosed pedestrian walkway, the Falls Street Faire & Falls Street Station entertainment complexes, sections of the Robert Moses State Parkway, and the Mayor E. Dent Lackey Plaza closed within twenty to thirty years of their construction. Some demolished blocks were never replaced. Ultimately, the former tourist district of the city along Falls Street was destroyed. It went against the principles of several urban philosophers, such as Jane Jacobs, who claimed that mixed-use districts were needed (which the new downtown was not) and arteries needed to be kept open. Smaller buildings also should be built or kept. In Niagara Falls, however, the convention center blocked traffic into the city, located in the center of Falls Street (the main artery), and the Wintergarden also blocked traffic from the convention center to the Niagara Falls. The Rainbow Centre interrupted the street grid, taking up three blocks, and parking ramps isolated the city from the core, leading to the degradation of nearby neighborhoods. Tourists were forced to walk around the Rainbow Center, the Wintergarden, and the Quality Inn (all of which were adjacent), in total five blocks, discouraging small business in the city.