Rebuilding Place in the Urban Space

"A community’s physical form, rather than its land uses, is its most intrinsic and enduring characteristic." [Katz, EPA] This blog focuses on place and placemaking and all that makes it work--historic preservation, urban design, transportation, asset-based community development, arts & cultural development, commercial district revitalization, tourism & destination development, and quality of life advocacy--along with doses of civic engagement and good governance watchdogging.

Tuesday, February 21, 2017

Documentary on "transformation of public housing": "70 Acres in Chicago: Cabrini Green," premiering tonight on the WORLD Channel

World Channel is a programming service produced by WGBH, the Public Broadcasting Station in Boston, and is available in many television markets across the country, broadcast on subsidiary HDTV channels (with digital television broadcasting, each station has a main channel, and secondary channels).

Unfortunately, the World Channel isn't available in the DC-MD-Northern VA area, but it is available in many markets, and online.

(WRT the value of access to such programming, see "Culture planning at the metropolitan scale should include funding for "local" documentary film making" and the section on community media in this post, "Voting vs. civic participation | elections vs. governance.")

America ReFramed is the channel's premier documentary series and tonight, at 8 pm, is the premiere of "70 Acres in Chicago: Cabrini Green,"by Ronit Bezalei.  From the press release:
Filmed over two decades [the program] is a remarkable 20-year look at the Cabrini Green redevelopment process, starting int he mid-'90's as the demolitions begin. Concerns quickly arise over the implementation of the Plan for Transformation and the lack of input afforded to existing residents. The community fights back; they file lawsuits, march and rally. Yet many families wonder if the new housing will accommodate the old residents, or if they will be forced to find affordable housing elsewhere.
Later today I will post a review. But I didn't want that delay to forego advanced notice about tonight's broadcast and the need to plan your day.

The documentary is important because it illustrates the many (unintended?) consequences of the "public housing transformation" program dating to the mid 1990s and the Clinton Administration's HOPEVI program, which gave money to housing authorities to rebuild projects.

Not only did these redevelopments make the housing projects smaller, it incorporated market rate housing into the developments, but at the expense of the number of units made available to lower income households.

Plus, while a majority of residents were made the promise that they could return many did not.  And in the interim, the destruction of these developments and the dispersal of the residents had negative impacts on the people and sometimes, severe consequences for the broader community.

In terms of people, they lost their neighborhoods and their social networks and "social and community capital," or what Logan and Molotch in Urban Fortunes: Toward a Political Economy of Place, called "the use values of place."  People of limited means are far more reliant on use value than people with money, who can buy what they need.

While not citing Urban Fortunes, in the widely acclaimed Root Shock, Doctor Mindy Thompson Fullilove makes the same kinds of arguments on the highly negative impact on individuals, their social networks, and communities as a result of urban renewal.

Types of Use Values*

Daily Round: The place of residence is a focal point for the wider routine in which one's concrete daily needs are satisfied.

Informal Support Networks: Place of residence is the potential support of an information network of people who provide life-sustaining products and services.

Security and Trust: A neighborhood also provides a sense of physical and psychic security that comes with a familiar and dependable environment.

Identity: A neighborhood provides its residents with an important source of identity, both for themselves and for others. Neighborhoods offer a resident not only spatial demarcations but social demarcations as well.

Agglomeration Benefits: A shared interest in overlapping use values (identity, security, and so on) in a single area is a useful way to define neighborhood.

Ethnicity: Not infrequently, these benefits are encapsulated in a shared enthnicity... When this occurs, ethnicity serves as a summary characterization of all the overlapping benefits of neighborhood life.

(* From chapter four of Urban Fortunes: Toward a Political Economy of Place.)

Community effects.  But in an effect not widely studied, there were sometimes significantly negative community effects. For example, the rise in crime from the late 1990s and the economic problems of the hospital system in Prince George's County, Maryland can in part be attributed to systematic "transformation" of public housing in DC's East of the River neighborhoods, which forced many of these residents out of the city--many relocated to Prince George's County.

The now sadly defunct Suburban Gazette newspapers published a brilliant piece in 2003 about this, called "Shouldering the Burden."

Similarly, the violent crime epidemic in Chicago--which is an outlier generally because for most major cities over the last decade crime has dropped--probably is in part attributable to the massive dislocation of residents and communities that has resulted from the changes to the city's public housing communities, leading to battles over turf much more violent than the kinds of disputes discussed by Elijah Anderson in Streetwise and Code of the Street.

See the 2005 blog entry, "In a rising real estate tide, some communities get swamped."

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