Urban Renewal and Community Development

For several decades, community development has been a major preoccupation of planners. It covers a wide range of goals and activities.

  • 1. Facilitation of economic growth or, in more desperate cases, measures to retard the loss of economic activity.
  • 2. Attempts to increase the quality—and sometimes the quantity—of the municipality's housing stock.
  • 3. Attempts to sustain or improve some particular commercial function of the city, most commonly retailing. (Note the link here with item 1.)
  • 4. Improvement of some physical aspect of the community such as its parks, recreational facilities, parking facilities, or street pattern.
  • 5. Furtherance of urban design goals. This is often tied to some of the previously listed goals. For example, attempts to beautify—or de-uglify—a downtown street might be tied to attempts to increase downtown retailing activity, which might be part of a larger effort aimed at employment expansion.
  • 6. Provision of a variety of services. Examples might be provision of social services such as day care, job training, or drug rehabilitation. Service provision is likely to be directed primarily toward less affluent segments of the community's population.

Although the term community development is of post-World War II origin, it is not a totally new departure for planning. Planners' concerns with housing go back to the nineteenth century. Then, too, the facilitation of economic growth had been a major motivation behind city planning for decades.

This chapter begins with an account of Urban Renewal, a program that is now history. The reader may wonder why this look backward is necessary. Although the Urban Renewal program is over, many of its main elements are still central to the urban development process.

Urban Renewal is instructive in that it illustrates how hard it can be to formulate policy that is free of major side effects and actually does what it is intended to do. For its critics, who grew to be very numerous indeed, Urban Renewal was a classic illustration of the old expression "The road to hell is paved with good intentions."

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