The following exchange was occasioned by Herbert J. Gans's article, “The Failure of Urban Renewal,” which appeared in the April COMMENTARY. GEORGE M. RAYMOND is chairman of the planning department of the school of Architecture, Pratt Institute; he has written numerous articles about city planning. MALCOLM D. RIVKIN, of Robert R. Nathan Associates, is the author of Area Development for Growth—the Turkish Precedent. Mr. Gans is an associate professor of sociology at Teachers College, Columbia University, and the author of The Urban Villagers.

George M. Raymond: Recognizing that all urban slums should not necessarily be replaced by low-rent or subsidized middle-income housing in the same location (which is all that the Housing Act of 1937 permitted localities to do), Congress in 1949 enacted a statute designed to make it economically feasible for cities and private enterprise to re-use the cleared land for whatever purpose local governments felt to be, in the best interest of their communities. Since it was clear that many relatively disadvantaged families would be displaced in this process, the new law required them to be rehoused in decent, safe, and sanitary dwellings within their means, anywhere in the locality within convenient distance of their places of employment.

The above describes those aspects of the federal urban renewal program that concern clearance and redevelopment. It is difficult to find any similarity between what this program actually is and what Herbert J. Gans has made it seem to be in his astoundingly ill-considered attack.

Mr. Gans begins by berating urban renewal for not having built as many dwelling units as it has demolished. As a close observer of urban renewal projects, however, he must be fully aware that any comparison between the number of apartments demolished and the number subsequently erected in the same areas is totally invalid and irrelevant. Let us see why:

  1. Many areas now occupied by slum housing are unfit for continued residential use (for reasons such as their being surrounded by industry, subject to flooding, etc.).
  2. Other areas are peculiarly suited to that expansion of schools and hospitals which is so essential to their ability to supply the services demanded by our growing population.
  3. Many slum areas tightly surround our cities' obsolete business districts, and are badly needed to facilitate the expansion of the latter.
  4. Slum housing frequently needs to be removed to make way for the new schools, parks, and playgrounds that are so essential to the upgrading of our cities' vast “gray areas.”

As a result of such factors, the public interest more often than not requires that less land be devoted to residential use after rebuilding than before. Furthermore, existing housing has to be demolished at least two years before new housing becomes available for occupancy. Thus, any comparison between the number of units demolished and the number built at the time of any survey will necessarily underestimate the program's potential for creating new housing. Any fair observer, therefore, knows that the only valid comparison between the housing supply antedating renewal and that in existence subsequently, is one that includes all housing built in the community during that period, regardless of location, as well as all housing that has become available to people in the same income bracket as those displaced, from whatever source (such as the migration to the suburbs of upwardly mobile white families). In Brooklyn alone, it has been estimated that between 1950 and 1960 half-a-million white persons were replaced by an equal number of generally lower-income non-whites and Puerto Ricans. The units into which these newcomers moved represented a net addition to the housing supply available to lower-income minority families. Mr. Gans has failed to take any of these well-known facts into consideration.

Strangely enough, Mr. Gans admits that the data on which he relied were supplied by Martin Anderson, author of The Federal Bulldozer, and characterized by Mr. Gans as “an ultra-conservative economist and often irresponsible polemicist.” How, then, can he defend his use of the slanted, incomplete, and poorly digested data from such a discredited source? The answer to this question is quite clear: were Mr. Gans to use reliable data, his case against urban renewal would collapse. Let me illustrate.

An incredibly large proportion of all families displaced by urban renewal are being relocated in decent, safe, and sanitary dwellings. (Admittedly, this was not the case with many families displaced by previous programs, which were not required by law to provide relocation housing.) While local public agencies had claimed that some 84 per cent of all families had been adequately rehoused, the studies cited by Mr. Gans maintained that as many as 70 per cent were merely rehoused in other slums. However, a recently completed impartial survey by the Bureau of the Census found that 94 per cent of those displaced families whose move could be traced (or more than 75 per cent of the total sample) were relocated in standard dwellings. This was accomplished even though 40 per cent of these families had an income of under $3,000! Thus it appears that the claims of local agencies were much closer to the truth than those of the detractors of urban renewal.

Mr. Gans cites a Chicago study to the effect that rents rose from 35 per cent of family income before relocation, to 46 per cent afterward. The above-mentioned Census survey, however, reported that the median proportion of income spent for rent rose by only 3 per cent, from 25 to 28 per cent. It must be noted that the Chicago study dealt with public housing, rather than urban renewal and relocation; in any event it was made in 1957, eight years ago, and long before the improved housing programs and relocation procedures—which Mr. Gans himself cites—could possibly have taken effect.

Mr. Gans accuses the program of having spent only one-half of one per cent (the italics are his) of all federal expenditures for urban renewal between 1949 and 1964 on the relocation of families and individuals, but he admits that the proportion rises to 2 per cent if direct relocation payments are included. One must question the basic relevance of these figures. The one-half of one per cent represents only the cost of the local public agencies' administration of relocation programs. It does not include any of the federal subsidies involved either in the construction and operation of low-rent public housing into which many families were relocated, or in the advance of below-market interest rate loans to private builders of middle-income housing. It also omits the non-federal subsidies offered by local communities in the form of tax abatement, social services, relocation bonuses, etc. In the aggregate, these expenditures represent many times the amount claimed by Mr. Gans to be the only public assistance extended to relocated families.


Urban renewal is of no assistance to cities, Mr. Gans suggests, because “the average project has taken twelve years to complete.” What he fails to point out is that a project can be 99 per cent finished, and yet be carried on the books for years as incomplete. In New York City, this is the case with such projects as Lincoln Square or Penn Station South, which have been paying taxes for years. Furthermore, in many projects, the first building erected returns many times the taxes paid by the entire project area before renewal. (A recent example is the Medical Tower office building which occupies only 2.5 acres of a 35-acre renewal project in Norfolk, Virginia, and which returns twice the amount of taxes previously paid by the entire area.) Thus, even though only partially completed, a renewal project can begin to help the city meet not only the remaining cost of the project itself, but also its many other pressing obligations.

Mr. Gans accuses urban renewal of falling short of expectations because private investments, which were to exceed public expenditures by four times, have barely matched the latter. But here again, we are confronted with a comparison made at a time when the major portion of all public expenditures designed to prepare the site for private development has already been committed, while private investment in the new buildings is only beginning to be made. For an accurate picture of the position of private vs. public investment, one has to look at individual projects. Thus, in New Haven's Oak Street Project, assessments (which represent only a fraction of actual construction costs) have increased from $2 million to $16.6 million, while the total public cost has been only $5 million. (Incidentally, this project, which now pays eight times the taxes collected from the area before renewal, is still listed as “incomplete.”) In Hartford, Connecticut, Constitution Plaza will be assessed at $46 million as against the previous $9 million; the total public cost is $10.4 million. Since these figures are very easy to obtain, it is strange that Mr. Gans relies on Anderson's admittedly biased data.

Between 1950 and 1960, Mr. Gans claims, “six million substandard dwellings disappeared—all without government action.” The sad fact is that the decade began, and ended, with 4.1 million dilapidated units, and that some 15 million Americans continue to live in them. As a sociologist and planner, Mr. Gans should know full well that during this period the Bureau of the Census adopted a fundamental change in definitions relating to substandard housing, and that therefore his startling statistic is due to what can most charitably be described as mere sleight-of-hand, rather than to a dramatic conversion to the paths of righteousness by the nation's slum landlords.


So much for the shaky and sometimes obviously biased foundations of Mr. Gans's case against urban renewal. It is strange that he continues to beat the dead horse of the program as it was run in the 1950's, even though he recognizes that the many changes effected under the Kennedy and Johnson administrations have given it a new direction. He must surely know that the effect of new legislation on a program that takes years to mature will not be felt for four or five years. And yet, he makes no effort either to project the effect of these changes into the future, or to understand the extent to which they may vitiate much of his criticism. His constant use of data which, given his own questioning of the source, he must know to be untrue, disqualifies him as a dispassionate observer or objective scientist. For the true marks of a scientist are his ability to survive that “great tragedy of Science—the slaying of a beautiful hypothesis by an ugly fact” (T. H. Huxley), and his readiness to build a more advanced hypothesis upon its ruins. By contrast, Mr. Gans seems to be unable to abandon discredited theories, even if he has to resort to outright distortion of facts in order to hold on to them.

Before turning to Mr. Gans's proposed solution to some of the most complex and danger-laden social problems of our time, let us examine the reasons for the difficulties in the path of urban renewal. Anyone who has ever tried to set an urban renewal project in motion knows that the main reason for its bogging down is the relocation problem. By this is meant not the absence of housing or of means to develop needed housing, but the totally unbending refusal of the white community to accept any Negro settlement in its midst. The task is further complicated by the fact that many sites which are proposed for the construction of new housing are not acceptable to the Negro leadership because these sites fail to further racial integration. Under these circumstances, the only dynamic force for at least some integration in housing is a community desire to undertake urban renewal. The community is motivated by the very reasons at which Mr. Gans is so prepared to sneer, including the addition of new tax revenues to its dwindling coffers, the revitalization of its downtown areas, and the halting of the exodus of middle-class whites to the suburbs. Many early projects, begun shortly after the enactment of the basic legislation in 1949, actually did concentrate on the worst slums, as Mr. Gans would have all of them do. But instead of achieving the results he desires, these projects remained vacant for years because sites still surrounded by slums do not attract private developers.

The second major source of opposition to urban renewal are the slumlords, who frequently hide behind the arguments so generously supplied by Gans, Anderson, et al. In many communities, large and small, the poor are now exploited to the point where the shacks in which they live bring 25 to 30 per cent net profit to the owners. No wonder, therefore, that these “real-estate investors” oppose the cities' efforts at slum-clearance.


In the light of these serious difficulties, how relevant are Mr. Gans's proposals? He would like all slum-clearance efforts to be stopped until the suburbs are ready to accept in their midst “groups of slum residents en masse,” together with all the “new social institutions and community facilities [needed] to help the erstwhile slum-dweller feel comfortable in his new community.” Somehow, he also expects to make it possible for these “erstwhile slum-dwellers” to be moved into their new environments without being labeled as poor—which can only be interpreted to mean that they will be discreetly provided with not only housing and furniture on a par with their middle-income neighbors, but also with a continuing income equal to theirs. Given this country's traditional economic stance, it is quite doubtful that our government is about to embrace the doctrine of “from each according to his ability, to each according to his needs,” which would have to provide the basis for any income policy whereby erstwhile slum-dwellers could be supplied with an instant middle-income. As for the chance of moving low-income Negroes into the suburbs, Mr. Gans himself recognizes that this would be a hundredfold more difficult than moving them into middle-income, white, city neighborhoods. Since even this, less difficult, objective has proven well-nigh impossible to accomplish, Mr. Gans's vision has all the marks of an unattainable Utopia.

But the most incredible of Mr. Gans's proposals is that the federal government should accelerate the transformation of our cities into predominantly, or even exclusively, Negro enclaves. He even goes so far as to suggest that poor whites who wish to move from areas inhabited by Negroes should be given a subsidy to enable them to move to new housing on the city's outskirts! This proposal is based on the romantic notion that “non-white low-income people might feel more positive about a city in which they were the majority, for if they had the votes, municipal services would be more attuned to their priorities than is now the case.” This presupposes that the City of the Poor will be governed by philosopher-kings, rather than by the kind of politician who usually rises to rule the poor and ignorant. After all, venal leadership of cities in which the poor or near-poor, of whatever color, are a majority is not a novelty on our political scene: Jersey City produced not Woodrow Wilson, but Frank Hague. The priorities under the latter's enlightened leadership did little for the poor—except, of course, for the well-publicized turkey on Thanksgiving.


Cities deprived of their upper and middle classes, and thus composed chiefly of the poor, would inevitably entail a serious deterioration in the quality of our entire civilization, since it is the cities, not the suburbs, that have always carried and nurtured this precious, complex heritage. Mr. Gans's failure to grasp such a fundamental point leads him to proposals which are truly subversive, in the best sense of that word. In his legitimate concern with the problems of the poor, he is much too ready to sacrifice the city.

Furthermore, he himself admits that cities inhabited exclusively by the poor will not be able to raise the huge amounts of money required for necessary services. How realistic is it to believe that the federal government will then be ready to provide massive aid, considering that even now what is forthcoming from that source is a mere pittance when compared with the vastness of the need?

In Mr. Gans's vision of America's future city, the low-income Negroes will be able to occupy the housing in better neighborhoods vacated by all the whites and a large number of the “upwardly mobile,” highly educated, and highly skilled Negroes, who will have moved to the suburbs. This process, he says, will leave so many vacant units in the old slum areas as to make it relatively easy and inexpensive to tear them down, and to turn these areas into “the hub[s] of . . . vast metropolitan complex[es] of urban neighborhoods, suburbs, and new towns. . . .” In theory, perhaps: but in real life one needs to ask a few additional questions. What would happen if the rate of new construction were to fail to keep pace with population growth? Or if the migration of the unassimilated poor to the city continued, or even increased? Would these factors not tend to keep the slums, by then fully segregated, occupied indefinitely? And at the end of the decades it would take for this process to consummate itself, what is to guarantee that the centers of cities would still be there to be salvaged? What assurance is there that the middle class, by then totally suburbanized, would continue to brave the daily trip across the angry, seething, indigent “black belt,” rather than decentralize those functions which now make that trip, already excessively difficult, necessary?

As for the “hard-core,” multi-problem families and socially deviant, self-destructive individuals—whose presence frequently holds up completion of renewal projects for many months, if not years, and which is, in part, responsible for the poor image of much public housing—Mr. Gans has an easy answer. For the mentally ill, the dope addict, the habitual prostitute, etc., he would either leave the existing slums, or set up “a new kind of public housing . . . quasi-communities . . . to provide at least decent shelter for those who cannot be helped . . . until we learn how to cure” their ills. This has often been advanced as the “halfway house”: a settlement saturated with social services, from which families might be able to move to normal public housing if they could overcome their anti-social or self-destructive behavior. Up to now it has been rejected by those in positions of responsibility, not for lack of thought, but because it runs counter to our democratic ethos and because it much resembles the idea of “caring” for undesirables in concentration camps.


No reasonable person will resist any possible improvement of the renewal program. But notwithstanding the misleading appeal of Mr. Gans's oversimplified, hollow, and totally impractical arguments, his proposals do not amount to any program of action which lies in the realm of the possible. A clue to the nature of his confusion is furnished by his statement that “what poor people need most are decent incomes, proper jobs, better schools, and freedom from racial and class discrimination.” “Indeed,” he continues, “if the choice were between a program solely dedicated to rehousing, and a program that kept the low-income population in the city slums for another generation but provided for these needs, the latter would be preferable, for it would produce people who were able to leave the slums under their own steam.” But unfortunately, the only choice open to us is between leaving the poor in their slums, and supplying some of them with decent housing in good neighborhoods. Dr. Robert C. Weaver, the nation's Housing Administrator and one of its foremost urban scholars, has observed that while it is true that good housing “is not itself a remedy for a family's ills . . . [it] does offer the environment in which many . . . family problems can be successfully treated.” Besides, as Mr. Gans recognizes, the renewal program constantly brings problems out in the open which our society has previously been content to sweep under the rug. For example, much of the impetus for the war on poverty can be attributed to the difficulties discovered in the path of urban renewal. Also, as Mr. Gans himself points out, the construction activity which can be generated by housing and urban-renewal programs could well contribute to creating a level of employment which would include jobs for many of the unemployed poor.

Most tragically, Mr. Gans either does not know, or has forgotten, what slums are like, and what cruel effects they have on those who live in them. While doing his research for The Urban Villagers, he acted as a “participant observer.” He may or may not have done the same in a New York City slum neighborhood. Dan Wakefield did, and this is how he described the vast gulf between the meaning of the slum to a participant observer and to a slum-dweller:

I cannot know the slums or hate them as profoundly as Alicia does because I wasn't born there. I am able to hate them and know them in some small way because of the brief time I lived in Alicia's neighborhood. I cannot approach the abyss of her understanding because no matter what happened I knew I could always escape; I was only a visitor. There were times, though, when I tried with an effort of imagination to extend my experience to that of my neighbors. There were times when I came home tired, late at night, on 100th Street, and climbed the stairs and opened the door of my room and turned the light on and watched the sudden scurry of the cockroaches that moved on the paint-chipped kitchen wall like the scattered filings of a magnet controlled by some invisible force. I would close the door and take a deep breath of the stale, heavy air, and then suddenly I would remember that after all, this wasn't my real home—I would later move on to some clean, well-lighted place like the ones I had lived in before. But then I would close my eyes and concentrate and try to imagine that this was my home and would always be my home and that the clean, well-lighted places of the world were forever closed to me. Most of the time I could not believe it; I could feel nothing. Sometimes, though, for the briefest instant, I could catch a flicker of the nightmare that was the only reality for every other human being beneath that roof. I could feel the enclosure of the flaking walls and see through the window the blackened reflection of the tenement across the street that blocked out the world beyond. But it was only a glimpse.

The participant observer can afford to wait for the elimination of slums. For him there is less urgency about that than about trying to make the world fit his preconceptions. Unhappily, Mr. Gans's vision of a world where poor Negroes are welcomed to the suburbs is a mirage. Thousands of years ago, a world was envisioned in which “the wolf shall dwell with the lamb, and the leopard shall lie down with the kid,” but it has not yet come to pass.

Must we, then, have the slums always with us, as we seem fated to have the poor?

I do not mean to suggest that we should resign ourselves to the status quo, nor do I mean to deny that Mr. Gans is clearly motivated by a deep dedication to the cause of the downtrodden. As is well known from several millennia of experience, however, it takes more than dedication to help improve the condition of the poor. Certainly, two basic prerequisites are an ability to distinguish reality from wishful thinking, and a willingness—in the words of President Johnson—to “deal with the world as it is, if it is ever to be as we wish.” That may be more difficult than spinning dreams of Utopias, but it is essential if the necessary job is to be done.


Malcolm D. Rivkin: Herbert J. Gans is probably the most sensitive critic of urban renewal writing today. His measured analysis in COMMENTARY reflects intimate familiarity with the program and its problems. Unlike those critics who would scrap urban renewal, Mr. Gans sees a prospect for adapting the present machinery—with significant changes—in order to ameliorate severe social problems of contemporary urban society. His proposals for federal action are sound and realistic enough to be enacted by our urban-minded President and a cooperative Congress.

But Mr. Gans has oversimplified the solutions by seeking too hard for a deus ex machina in the form of federal intervention. Overstating the possibilities of the federal role in urban renewal, he diverts our attention from the real source of difficulty: the ruling elite of individual American cities. Basically, the city councils, planning boards, renewal authorities, and social institutions of our urban communities determine the kind of renewal that is effected. And regardless of any new federal legislation, these local authorities will continue to dominate the field. Mr. Gans, of course, recognizes local leadership as a problem, but he fails to emphasize the prime responsibility it bears. The following points must therefore be noted:

(1) The present urban-renewal legislation, even as it stands, is not bad legislation. It does not encourage segregation or the destruction of salvable minority-group housing. It may indeed place insufficient emphasis on rehabilitation, on combining better housing with better employment opportunities, and on other socially-motivated programs which I join Mr. Gans in desiring. But such projects can today be undertaken as part of the regular renewal activity, as special demonstration programs, or in combination with other federal and state aid programs that are already available to local municipalities. Renewal depends mainly on what the community wants. The present legislation is broad in concept. It does set guidelines, and its accompanying administrative regulations (often cumbersome, to be sure) do establish detailed technical criteria and standards, but these guidelines and standards are applied to projects initiated by the local communities themselves. HHFA has respected the existing division between federal and local powers to a degree not commonly appreciated by the critics of “growing federal control.” Before a project even comes to the federal authorities for approval and allocation of funds, it has been drafted by local planners, approved by the City Council after public hearings, and endorsed as harmonious with community interests by a “representative” advisory committee of civic leaders. It is difficult if not impossible for the federal authorities to reject out of hand a technically sound proposal that has received full support from the official and articulate elements of the community—especially when the project violates no civil-rights or other law.

I remember the genesis of one particular project in a middle-sized New England city. A small three-acre parcel of land near a well-to-do residential area had been scheduled for clearance. The renewal planners and the City Council considered a number of alternative uses for the land. It could be employed for public housing, or a limited-dividend project for middle-income families, or a high-rise, high-rent development that would bring significant revenues to the city by way of property taxes and tenant purchasing power. The federal authorities would have approved any of the feasible projects. Much citizen activity was generated, and a heated debate ensued. Finally, the local planners and the City Council (after a public hearing) opted for the high-rent, high tax-paying alternative. As this was the local decision, endorsed by the community leadership, the project (which met all the necessary technical specifications) was approved by HHFA.

(2) Excellent, socially-motivated projects—stemming from local initiative and community leadership, not federal decree—have been accomplished under the present urban-renewal program. I am thinking particularly of New Haven, which—under the forceful guidance of Mayor Richard Lee—has both increased its tax base and provided stable middle- and lower-income housing. New Haven's techniques have included rehabilitation as well as new construction. It has pioneered in the use of rent subsidies under a demonstration grant from HHFA, and it has gone far toward using urban renewal as a means of fostering integrated neighborhoods. New Haven's success, although not complete, has occurred under the same federal legislation that has elsewhere led to excesses of clearance and luxury housing. But New Haven's leaders wanted something better for their city.

(3) Current federal activity (in the poverty program and area redevelopment) is placing more rather than less emphasis on local responsibility. This is a harbinger of things to come. The Office of Economic Opportunity requires locally staffed and planned Community Action Programs as the prerequisite for much of its assistance. Although it tries to secure the “involvement of the poor” in the framing of such programs, OEO can act only on plans produced by local agencies. Area development assistance efforts in Appalachia and elsewhere are based on the premise that the states or areas in question will themselves decide on what is needed. I do not believe that we can realistically expect any “new look” in urban renewal—no matter how enlightened it is at the federal level—to diverge from this increasing emphasis on local and state decision-making.

Nor can I agree with Mr. Gans that the carrot of heavy federal financial assistance will be so tempting that communities will lightly do away with long-held prejudices in order to collect large sums of “free” money. We must recognize that the alacrity with which local communities seize 90—10 federal highway funds for expressways is not due to the money's being there for the having, but rather to powerful pressure groups within these communities—from the average auto owner to the trucking associations—who want to drive on good roads. There must be such pressure from within. I agree completely with Mr. Gans on the need for new federal legislation and on its content, but unless community attitudes change, this legislation will not be worth the paper on which it is printed.


The difficulty of producing this change constitutes the real roadblock to effective renewal, and leadership by federal example is at best a partial answer. At present, the fear of Negro movement into white neighborhoods is deep-rooted and strong among both suburbanites and well-to-do central city residents. Moreover, the continuing erosion of downtown tax bases and the crazy-quilt system of municipal revenue, make high tax-producing renewal projects of particular—and understandable—importance to city authorities. Until, however, integrated neighborhoods and good housing for the poor become local political issues of equal or greater significance than the tax base, very little change will occur—regardless of new federal laws. This does not mean the situation is hopeless. There are signs of growing articulateness in the Negro communities of Chicago, Washington, and other cities where Negro population and Negro incomes are both rising. This expression of concern will, one hopes, be channeled into a constructive force. The growing number of foundations and OEO-supported community action organizations, such as Community Progress in New Haven and the United Planning Organization in Washington, can certainly contribute to this process. By helping the poor to define their own needs and desires, these organizations can begin to express demands which political leaders will be unable to ignore. But the process will be slow and arduous.

One of the key forces for change is the urban university, and I am a bit surprised that it went unmentioned in Mr. Gans's otherwise comprehensive discussion. For universities—the Columbias, the Harvards, the George Washingtons, the Western Reserves—represent a major and too often aloof power in urban America. They are large landowners in the central cities, where their stake is already so great that they cannot move to suburban pastures along with the white middle class and the less heavily committed industries. They must, therefore, protect the physical and social characteristics of their surroundings. As the trainers of leadership for the Great Society, moreover, they have, or rather should have, a certain social conscience.

There are two ways in which the universities can act. First, as powerful institutions in their own communities they can press for socially responsible renewal programs, for integrated housing in middle-class areas, for an improvement in housing and job opportunities for the poor. Indeed, the universities, through skilled and willing faculty members, can provide a good deal of technical assistance to the community for performing the tasks necessary to achieve these objectives. Some schools have already accepted this role; others are as remiss as local government itself.

Secondly, the universities have a responsibility for training the next generation of urban administrators and politicians. It is up to the schools to provide leaders of higher quality and greater sensitivity than ever before. In the course of their university experience, students can be brought face to face with the problems confronting urban America and they can be provided with both the technical skills and the values required for equitable solutions. As a new breed of sensitive planner, politician, or engineer emerges to help guide the course of urban society, the prospects for change will become greater.

None of this will be easy; nor can these problems be solved overnight—if at all. We must call on every resource. But the final outcome, whatever it may be, will depend less on Congress and the HHFA than on the people and institutions of the cities themselves.


Herbert J. Gans: Professor Raymond's argument in support of present urban renewal policies is an extremely complex one, but it may be summarized as follows. Slums ought to be cleared to meet the need for new schools, hospitals, recreational facilities, and expanded business districts. On the one hand, urban renewal can proceed without replacing the cleared units, because of the white exodus to the suburbs, and because improved relocation procedures are providing enough better housing for displaced poor non-whites. On the other hand, urban renewal cannot proceed, because whites refuse to let non-whites move into their neighborhoods and relocation is therefore impossible. It is, however, subversive to help non-whites move into such neighborhoods, nor does the answer lie in public-housing projects, which are too much like concentration camps. Nevertheless, something ought to be done, for slums are extremely harmful to their occupants. The solution consists of “supplying some of [the slum-dwellers] with decent housing in good neighborhoods” which requires “the ability to distinguish reality from wishful thinking and a willingness . . . ‘to deal with the world as it is’ “—or as President Johnson says it is.

Since it is impossible to deal with such an argument, I will confine myself to comments on some of Mr. Raymond's individual charges. I did not say that urban renewal had to replace demolished low-cost housing in the same area; I merely said that in cities where such housing is in short supply, renewal ought to be halted—regardless of how many whites leave Brooklyn. Even though Mr. Raymond thinks it is more important to provide community facilities for gray areas and to build stores in downtown districts that already have too many vacancies, than it is to provide housing for displaced slum-dwellers, the latter do have to live somewhere.

Perhaps they could build shacks out of all the government reports which demonstrate the high quality of relocation procedures. The latest such document, just issued by the Bureau of the Census and cited by Mr. Raymond, may be impartial but it is also inconclusive. Unlike the studies I drew on, which describe what happened to all the residents of an urban renewal area after their displacement, the Census study only dealt with people who had actually been relocated by 132 local agencies during a three-month period in 1964. However, anyone who has ever worked in an urban-renewal agency knows that many slum-dwellers flee from a project area when renewal is announced; others leave before they can be interviewed by renewal officials; and yet others depart before they can be offered relocation aid. A high proportion of all these premature movers go to other slums. According to a report of the New York City Department of Relocation, for example, 47 per cent of the slum-dwellers in the urban-renewal area of the Upper West Side left between the early months of 1963, when the city took title to the area, and at the end of the same year, when it started relocation activities. The Census report, in other words, covers only a portion of those displaced. The premature flight of so many slum-dwellers is not entirely the fault of urban-renewal procedures, but it must be taken into account in any honest evaluation of relocation.

I did not—and still do not—question the possibility that in cities where inexpensive housing is plentiful, humane relocation is taking place. But we still need reliable studies to prove this, especially in the case of big cities. Moreover, there is a similar lack of evidence concerning the amount of rent increase paid by the relocatees.

If relocation is as beneficial as local and federal officials are constantly trying to prove, why are slum-dwellers—who live in blight and misery and who want better housing—so opposed to urban renewal? Is it because they are participant observers “who can afford to wait for the elimination of slums,” or “socially deviant, self-destructive individuals” who enjoy holding up the completion of renewal projects? Or is it possibly because they have too many relatives and friends who have suffered from urban renewal?


And, indeed, how could it be otherwise, given the meager public-housing program, the shortage of other relocation housing, and the niggardly sums spent for relocation? Mr. Raymond seems pleased that fully 2 per cent of all federal renewal funds are allocated for relocation payments, but the fact is that 1.5 per cent of these funds is spent for payments to relocated businesses. Displaced residents, therefore, receive only one-half of one per cent, which is what I indicated in my article. Moreover, this figure refers to actual relocation payments by the federal government, and not to local administrative costs, as Mr. Raymond claims. The other benefits he mentions accrue to middle-income relocatees, and, according to the Census report cited above, the “many families” who move into public housing turn out to be exactly 13 per cent of all those people actually relocated by local agencies.

There have, of course, been some projects which have brought higher taxes to their cities, and I said as much. I also said that federal renewal and relocation policies had improved immeasurably since the end of the Eisenhower administration. But in too many cities local agencies are still proposing renewal projects which call for the displacement of large numbers of slum-dwellers into non-existent relocation housing, and—as Mr. Rivkin points out—the federal government cannot seem to stop them. I know of one Eastern city in which a luxury apartment house, built as part of an urban-renewal program, still stands almost half empty; nevertheless, there has recently been a proposal for a huge new upper-income project that will consume much of that city's federal quota of renewal funds for the next decade. In another city, rehabilitation is being used to help a Negro middle-class area oust its poor neighbors; and Columbia University has just persuaded New York City to approve a plan for the removal of many Negro and Puerto Rican residents—without adequate provision for their relocation.

If Mr. Raymond had read my article properly, he would have realized that I am quite aware of the obstacles to renewal created by white opposition to racial integration. If anything is to be done, then, about the slums occupied by non-whites, there are three possible courses of action: to rebuild within the present ghettos; to enable slum residents to move into better neighborhoods outside the ghetto, and into the suburbs as quickly as possible; or to continue the present renewal policy, which does nothing about the ghetto slums, and only lets a few upper-middle-income Negroes move into a handful of integrated projects built on renewal sites.


Mr. Raymond opts for the third solution, and this suggests how much he is really concerned about the slum-dwellers, notwithstanding his quotation from Dan Wakefield. The first solution is bitterly opposed by many Negro leaders, and is in any case impossible at present because new housing cannot be built for ghetto residents until a massive rent subsidy scheme is created for the lowest-income groups, or until the public-housing program, now virtually moribund, is expanded. Since the ghetto's principal blight is overcrowding, new housing cannot be built there without relocation, and many of its occupants will have to be helped to move into other neighborhoods.

Not only does this solution require less rent subsidy than the plan to build new housing within old ghettos, but it is also practical, for it merely assists the natural ecological process by which poor people have always bettered their housing conditions. If it entails a further white exodus to the suburbs, many cities will, to be sure, become increasingly non-white, just as a century ago, they became increasingly non-Protestant—and without resulting in the end of democracy or any of the other catastrophes predicted at the time by Mr. Raymond's ideological ancestors. I am not, then, as skeptical as he is of the ability of the poor to choose their own political leaders if they have the power to do so. They will not choose philosopher-kings any more frequently than affluent voters will, and they will rarely choose patricians like Woodrow Wilson. Their politicians might be corrupt, but even corrupt politicians respond to their constituents' demands in order to get re-elected. And since federal politicians are similarly responsive to their constituents, I am sure that the federal government will not stop tunneling funds into a city merely because its voters are predominantly poor.

This brings me to the real meaning of Mr. Raymond's solution. In proposing that slum clearance continue despite the difficulties of relocation, he is really maintaining that the most important task is to provide more urban facilities for the upper and middle classes, and that we should not worry too much about the poor since they have always been with us anyway. If the city is not rebuilt for the higher income groups, he argues, there will be “a serious deterioration in the quality of our entire civilization.” In short, if the choice is between eliminating poverty and saving civilization, the latter comes first.

Now if this were really the choice, Mr. Raymond might have a point, although one could still argue that a civilization which allows poverty to continue in the midst of affluence is not the “precious heritage” he believes it to be. But this is not the choice, and Mr. Raymond is merely repeating another hoary 19th-century cliché. Culture (which is what Professor Raymond seems to mean by civilization) is not intrinsic to cities; it existed there in past centuries because the upper-income groups who supported it—and still support it—happened to live almost entirely in cities. Today this is no longer the case, for the affluent have been living in the suburbs for more than a generation. Thus, if Mr. Raymond were correct, we should now be in the midst of a serious cultural decline, but all evidence suggests the contrary. The only change I can see is that some culture is moving into the suburbs in order to be near its major supporters, and we are now witnessing the emergence of art galleries, theaters, and the like beyond the city limits. Yet no urban concert halls or museums have closed down, though their audiences are heavily suburban too.


Many of those who create culture also live in the suburbs, and there is no evidence that their creativity is thereby impaired. Moreover, the artists who live in the handul of American cities where culture is actually being created (Manhattan, Boston, Chicago, and a few others) seem to be highly productive even though their neighbors are poor and non-white in an increasing number of cases. Manhattan, a world capital rather than the typical American city I was considering, is in no danger of becoming a community of poverty-stricken non-whites. Yet even if it were, I would wager that culture would continue to flourish there, partly because the creators of culture are often poor themselves, but mainly because culture is not so fragile as to be destroyed by residential change. Moreover, if we decided to give poor non-whites an even break, they might even contribute to the creation of better culture and a better civilization.

Mr. Raymond's difficulty is that of the city planner who thinks of the city as a collection of buildings, facilities, and gray areas, but not as a place where people live. What is worse, he only wants to plan for buildings and facilities that are used by upper- and middle-income groups; ignoring the needs of the poor, he is ready to support plans that perpetuate, in Michael Harrington's inimitable phrase, “socialism for the rich and private enterprise for the poor.”

One could, of course, simply attribute my disagreement with Mr. Raymond to our opposing views of priorities for governmental action; he favors the rich, and I the poor in what is for all practical purposes a latter-day class struggle. Ironically enough, however, since poverty and discrimination are the primary causes of what is wrong with our cities even by Mr. Raymond's city-planning standards, his proposal to build for the affluent cannot even achieve his own goals. After all, slums exist because too many people cannot afford or cannot get into decent housing. Urban facilities and services are so unsatisfactory because the cities must spend huge sums for welfare and for the protection of property and people against the crime, addiction, and mental illness which are ultimately also produced by poverty and discrimination. Replacing the buildings of the city without solving the problems of their present occupants is thus a spurious proposal. This is why a serious poverty program not only has priority over urban renewal, but why it is also the most effective method of achieving the civilized and beautiful cities that Mr. Raymond, and I, and everyone else desire.

Consequently, his petulant rejection of my proposals as at best Utopian and romantic is self-defeating. So, too, is his unwillingness to accept criticism of urban renewal: if it had not been for earlier critics, we might still be saddled with the urban-renewal procedures of the 1950's. His argument is also ultimately irrelevant, for whether he likes it or not, the federal government will eventually have to adopt a rehousing program. I thought I had made it perfectly clear that the change of policy will be difficult and slow, but this does not mean that our facing up to the problem now is either impractical or subversive. Rather, it is the indispensable prerequisite of proper planning.

This is also the crux of my answer to Mr. Rivkin's thoughtful remarks. He is absolutely right, of course, to suggest that the current inadequacies of urban renewal stem principally from local community decisions, and more specifically, from the failure of downtown business and real-estate interests to realize that they must use their power to improve the lot—and the purchasing power—of the low-income population, instead of continuing with useless attempts to lure the middle class back to the city.

It is also true that local autonomy in the expenditure of federal funds is not likely to decrease, although I am not as content with this trend as Mr. Rivkin seems to be. The “downtown influentials” are seldom wise enough to plan beyond their own immediate interests, and until a systematic benefit-cost analysis is made of the New Haven renewal and poverty programs, I am not sure that we can use even that city as a model of local enlightenment. Although its programs are probably the best in the country, there is some evidence that they do not provide much help to the poverty-stricken, and that they are not good enough to cope with New Haven's basic problems.


I believe that the only solution to the present impasse is more federal intervention, and since this cannot be achieved by federal control of local programs, it must be effected by the expenditure of more federal funds. Of course, federal subsidies are now accepted because of local demands and pressures for them, but the availability of new funds would create new local demands. For example, a major impetus for New York's Lower Manhattan Expressway came from the unions who want the jobs that new construction will generate. If a massive federal rehousing program were instituted, and if it were to include proper incentives for both urban and suburban demands, local support for the program would be created. Such support would not develop overnight, but if there is no new federal spending it will not develop at all.

I agree with Mr. Rivkin that local urban-renewal decisions will improve as Negro voters become more influential in city politics; even now they have exercised their power to bring the program to a virtual standstill in some cities. This is of no help either to themselves or to the cities in which they live, but only a rehousing program will enroll their support in the future. I am not as sanguine as Mr. Rivkin, however, about the contribution of the urban universities. They are, among other things, real-estate operations, and when it comes to moving poor residents out of university neighborhoods, they act with the same ruthlessness as other real-estate operations. They are justifiably concerned with expanding their campuses, but they also believe, and unjustifiably so, that crime and blight can be dealt with by moving out as many low-income residents as possible, however law-abiding they may be. In this process, they pay little attention to relocation needs.

Nor am I as hopeful as Mr. Rivkin that the urban university will train the next generation of urban politicians and officials to be aware of the real problems of the cities. They will do a much better job than in the past, because they did almost nothing in the past. But up to now, much of the improvement in urban planning and research programs has been generated by funds from federal agencies and foundations, and by the greater concern with social justice and social science among the new generation of students in the field of city planning. Meanwhile, too many professors are still advocating architectural solutions that benefit mainly the upper-income groups, and Professor Raymond's remarks provide depressing evidence that progress is likely to be slow.

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