Urban revitalization in historical perspective: federal urban policy, 1940s–1970s
The federal government has played an important role in enabling and shaping urban policy. Local governments have autonomy in how they craft and implement their revitalization strategies, but they are highly dependent on federal funding, funding implementation rules, and national policy objectives. As we have discussed, Roosevelt’s New Deal created programs to encourage urban infrastructure and housing development as a way to address unemployment during the Great Depression. The HOLC and FHA, the Housing Act of 1937 (which initiated the first dedicated public housing program in the US), the Interstate Highway System, and later federal housing programs that we will discuss here influenced patterns of both investment and disinvestment. These programs helped to steer private development toward particular areas and away from others. Most of these programs focused on the creation of new homeownership and job opportunities in the suburbs. However, by steering investment to suburban communities, the federal government contributed to worsening housing and neighborhood conditions in many urban neighborhoods. While policymakers have recognized this contradiction and sought to respond to urban decline, they did not always assist those hardest hit by uneven development.