Saturday, April 6, 2013

Edward G. Goetz's "New Deal Ruins"

Edward G. Goetz is Professor of Urban and Regional Planning and Director of the Center for Urban and Regional Affairs at the University of Minnesota. He is the author of Clearing the Way: Deconcentrating the Poor in Urban America and Shelter Burden: Local Politics and Progressive Housing Policy, and is the coeditor of The New Localism: Comparative Urban Politics in a Global Era.

He applied the “Page 99 Test” to his new book, New Deal Ruins: Race, Economic Justice, and Public Housing Policy, and reported the following:
The first full sentence on page 99 is a quote from a private real estate developer describing a public housing redevelopment in New Orleans:
“This will not be the redeveloped St. Bernard. This will be a high-end residential neighborhood where St. Bernard once stood.”
This quote captures a great deal of what New Deal Ruins is about. In the book I document the large-scale demolition and dismantling of public housing across the U.S. Though frequently justified as an effort to improve the lives of low-income residents, the transformation of public housing over the past 20 years is better characterized as an effort to dramatically remake the American city. During the 1990s, for example, real estate pressures in and around public housing communities were an important factor in the demolition of that housing and the forced relocation of its residents.

Race, too, is an important factor in the dismantling of public housing. New Deal Ruins shows how low-income African-Americans have borne a disproportionate burden of displacement and forced relocation over the past 20 years. The projects we have demolished during this period have typically had higher proportions of African-American residents than similar developments left standing. Since 2000, the cities that have been most aggressive in removing public housing units are those where the racial profile of public housing is more distinctly African-American compared to the city as a whole.

Thus, in many cities, including New Orleans, Chicago and Atlanta (all three the subject of short case studies in chapter three where page 99 is located), local officials, with the support and funds of the federal government, have systematically dismantled their public housing systems, triggered dramatic changes in land and housing markets, and set off striking socio-economic changes in large swaths of core neighborhoods that had previously been home to very low-income residents.

Page 99 ends with a summary of the New Orleans case study that is an apt summary of the national experience as well:
In a relatively short period of time New Orleans has eliminated thousands of units of low-cost public housing, all of which had been inhabited by low-income African Americans. In New Orleans the dismantling of public housing was part of a larger dynamic about race and poverty in which transformation played a central role in a conscious effort to deconcentrate poverty and disperse low-income blacks. The New Orleans case illustrates how public housing removal is key to efforts to redefine the city. The remaking of New Orleans was put into stark relief by the rebuilding effort after Katrina. Questions about how black or how poor the city should be were given explicit attention in ways that did not occur in other cities. Yet the effort to reduce concentrations of poverty and disperse low-income black residents was similar to Chicago’s Plan for Transformation. The dismantling of public housing in both cities is part of a fundamental redefinition of the city and a forced mobilization of the poor and of people of color to suit a different vision of what the city should be.
Learn more about New Deal Ruins at the Cornell University Press website.

--Marshal Zeringue