chapter  1
28 Pages

The Betrayal of the Liberal Assumptions of Urban Renewal

In the 1890s, while writing about the problem of the slum, Jacob Riis articulated the mutual existence of physical and social disorder in New York City. Riis realized that the slum was not simply a problem of inadequate housing, but one of social structure that included both tenements and people. In that sense, effective housing reform had to consist of a complete reconstruction of the neighborhood environment so that the way that people lived their lives could change. Riis admitted that this task of changing people would be diffi cult because adults had already been fashioned both by the hardships of the slum and the infl uence of the old country. But, at the least, physical and social reform could infl uence the children of the immigrants who seemed the most likely segment of the destitute population to embrace and realize middle-class American values. The professional affi liations that crystallized during the Progressive Era with the aim of bettering the conditions for the poor branched off into the two main trajectories that Riis had articulated: urban planners and architects focused on the physical dimension while social workers, educators, and law enforcement offi cials focused on the social dimension.2