Greater Greater Washington

Was your neighborhood "obsolete" in 1950?

The National Capital Park and Planning Commission, forerunner to today's NCPC, declared most of Shaw, Mount Vernon Square and Triangle, Capitol Hill, Southwest, Buena Vista and other neighborhoods "obsolete" in 1950. Yes, amazingly, they really used that term.


"Problem areas" and "obsolete characteristics" according to NCPPC, 1950.

That's some of the astounding information in the 1950 document Washington, Present and Future from NCPPC. ShawNeighborhood listserv participant RayM scanned a number of pages showing plans to radically remove multi-family dwellings from historic neighborhoods and force the kind of low-density, single-use, less walkable pattern of development that permanently destroyed many urban areas.

What was wrong? People lived in neighborhoods with alley dwellings, some of which were less well maintained. In The Death and Life of Great American Cities, Jane Jacobs talked about how planners in Boston declared the North End a similar "slum" simply because people lived at a certain population density per acre, and the view at the time was that government had to force people to live more spread out.

There are certainly reasons to believe race played a part as well; these neighborhoods were predominantly African-American. The solution, people thought at the time, was to tear down the old neighborhoods and build new ones in the "towers in the park" style of the housing projects we all know and loathe today. Here is their plan for Shaw:

Fortunately for Shaw, a thriving neighborhood with beautiful old row houses and some of DC's best-preserved carriage homes, most of this plan never came to pass. It largely did, however, in Southwest:

Besides wholesale demolition of neighborhoods, planners tried to push people out of so-called "blighted" neighborhoods with zoning. On Capitol Hill, for instance, the zoning plan wanted to take the fabric of different size buildings coexisting and declare that illegal. Instead, all commerce in the NE quadrant of the Hill would be restricted to H Street, Massachusetts, and a 2-block stretch of 8th, and all multifamily to Maryland Avenue.

They also wanted to widen 11th Street and demolish everything for 2 blocks on either side of East Capitol to create a new extended Mall. (This is the reason that the street between A and C NE is Constitution, not B, and likewise in SE is Independence, even though the original L'Enfant plan called them B Street).

Restore the zoning code to legalize historic neighborhoods

The current DC Zoning Update is rewriting the 1958 zoning code that came from this era. When evaluating it and other proposals, it's important to recognize that some characteristics of the District today come directly out of explicit "social engineering" decisions that planners pushed on the District at the time.

Rules against accessory dwellings and corner stores, parking minimums and single-use zoning were all efforts to zone many of the people, mostly African-American, out of the neighborhoods. When the Office of Planning suggests relaxing certain rules, often that's because the rule doesn't describe what's in the neighborhood today, or what was there in 1950, since the 1958 code was deliberately trying to zone out historic uses.

Accessory dwellings, corner stores, and more are all ways to let the city be what it naturally grew to be, before people around 1950 decided to force it to change. You can help by joining Pro-DC today.

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David Alpert is the founder and editor-in-chief of Greater Greater Washington. He worked as a Product Manager for Google for six years and has lived in the Boston, San Francisco, and New York metro areas in addition to Washington, DC. He now lives with his wife and daughter in Dupont Circle. 

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Funny that Washington, Present and Future from NCPPC comes up. I got a copy this very weekend. Beautiful maps in color from the never built three beltways.

by Jasper on Jul 9, 2012 1:49 pm • linkreport

What a great article. This is the kind of history one has to dig up on thier own but answers so many questions one had about how we got where we are. One of the reasons I tend to harp on modernist ideology is that anyone of those slum clearance plans could have been drawn up by LeCorbusier and company. It seems willfully ignorant not to understand the intellectual roots of ideas we now view as grotesque, but which polite society signed on to without hesitation only 50 years ago. Something else I hope someone could dig up are the interviews made of the residents where the neighborhoods where demolished. It reads like a PTSD manual.

"There are certainly reasons to believe race played a part as well" That's an understatement. Ultimatley, the realestate holders of these and surrounding neighborhoods used the modernist plans of slum clearance under the ruberic of wanting to provide "light and shade" knowing full well they'd devastate the very communities they where proporting to help. Unfortunatley for city lovers, these developers had some naive albeit well intentioned planners and architects as handymen.

This "scientific" approach which left out anything to do with emotion (as unscientific) seems to have had its apogee in the post WWII years when data ruled. The insights Jane Jacobs brought to how we now view cities was impossible to ascertain through this model, and as such we had to go to the extreme to see the faults of that approach. Not to through science under the bus, but thankfully its definition has been broadened to take into account unquantifiable information such as sense of place and beauty.

It's only fair to point out that some large scale city renewal efforts have produced wonderful results like Baron Von Hausman's new Paris of which there's a great account in David McCulloghs new book, "Americans in Paris", but it's clear (from the book) that what replaced a lot of Medeaval Paris was equal or better than what was torn down. There are many reasons we ended up destroying large parts of our cities and ultimatley our culture, so it's simplistic to blame it on any one thing, but one should follow history wherever it may lead as the best way to prevent this kind of maddness again.

by Thayer-D on Jul 9, 2012 2:03 pm • linkreport

And interesting to see if the redevelopment would work from an economic standpoint. I'm assuming all those redesigns were expecting a net reduction in pop. for a given area. But if the tax base is reduced enough then you can't pay for the maintenance of the green areas, and considering that most of the green areas are between the homes rather than in the central park areas (like in the shaw proposal) then that just adds a burden to the landowners.

Seems to me that the disconnect was the assumption that it was space that was paramount for city living and that if you somehow made more space (done by tearing down buildings) then people would flock to it. That may have been the case then but it seems like today because of myriad reasons that people realize that space represents an opportunity cost more than what was realized back then.

Also space is not part of a city's comparative advantage which is why a lot of these projects did not perform as expected compared to the suburbs. I think a lot of cities have or are beginning to realize this and we can see evidence in a number of the suburban jursidictions are urbanizing themselves as some of them ran out of the easy low density space.

by drumz on Jul 9, 2012 2:17 pm • linkreport

From 1948 Senate hearings on housing legislation:

Senator Maybank: What is a blighted home?

C. McKim Norton (president of the New York Regional Plan Association): These areas are residential areas in which the buildings are more than 40 years old.

Senator Maybank: You would call an area blighted simply because it is 40 years old?

Mr. Norton: No.

Senator Maybank: That is what I wanted to find out.

Mr. Norton: Also low rent. In other words, Park Avenue has apartments that are over 40 years old, but they are not blighted. But on this map it shows only areas that are old and are also low-rent areas. These areas, actually, if you motored through them, you would say these areas ought to be rebuilt.

by Ben Ross on Jul 9, 2012 2:20 pm • linkreport

@Thayer-D, Not to through[throw] science under the bus, but thankfully its definition has been broadened to take into account unquantifiable information such as sense of place and beauty.

I have seen these aspects quantified. Not that it has to be quantified to have value.

One thing I've learned from reading this site and the comments is from @David C.; the concept of the important of placing value on something you value, like sense of place, thus quantifying it. For instance he recently mentioned in a discussion about the cost of putting power lines underground that the value of trees and aesthetics (and other stuff) that would be saved/improved with underground wires weren't included in the cost analyses of burying the wires.

But where I've seen attributes like "sense of place' quantified has been in surveys where people are asked to describe a neighborhood they'd like to live in or visit and /or are shown photographs of neighborhoods with varying degrees of "sense of place" and then asked to rate them. In these studies walkable neighborhoods with interesting human scale architecture, big trees and safe street traffic always rank high. That is, neighborhoods like historic Shaw and the less restrictive pre-1958 zoning that enabled Shaw to be formed are valued/quantified highly compared to what these 1950 plans would have turned Shaw into.

by Tina on Jul 9, 2012 2:26 pm • linkreport

Though I agree wholeheartedly with the analysis, and I'm shocked that these were called "obsolete", we do the same thing to the newish suburbs and strip malls.

It's interesting how the pendulum has swung.

by OctaviusIII on Jul 9, 2012 2:27 pm • linkreport

"the view at the time was that government had to force people to live more spread out."

And in the future, people will say "the view at the time was that government had to force people to live in dense urban, transit oriented developments".

The fervor with which people push densification now probably matches well with the fervor that sprawl was pushed in generations past.

by Interesting on Jul 9, 2012 2:28 pm • linkreport

Not quite easy to tell from the map, but it appears that in the inset map for Richmond, VA, large areas of the Fan District were also considered obsolete and blighted.

As anyone from Richmond knows, The Fan was abandoned in the 50s and especially in the 60s as whites fled to the suburbs of western Henrico County. Currently, the Fan is a highly desirable, accessible, and walkable neighborhood.

by Jack Love on Jul 9, 2012 2:30 pm • linkreport

Interesting: The difference is that nobody is forcing people to live close together. Single-family neighborhoods are not being declared "obsolete" and torn down wholesale. Instead, the trend is just to legalize letting people live closer together if they want to.

Unfortunately, some folks who still hold the 1950s belief that urban places are "bad" have made up the fiction that allowing denser development in some areas is the same as "forcing" people to do anything.

by David Alpert on Jul 9, 2012 2:35 pm • linkreport

@OctaviusIII "Though I agree wholeheartedly with the analysis, and I'm shocked that these were called 'obsolete', we do the same thing to the newish suburbs and strip malls."

I get your point, but consider that these are residential neighborhoods with long histories. Before the war (WWII that is), residents were much less likely to move, and when doing so, never strayed far from their families. There was more of a bedrock community consisting of multiple familial generations, many of whom were uprooted by the projects of the 50s.

Suburban neighborhoods, by contrast, began to be filled in beginning in the 50s and 50s, and with a familiar connection that was much less prevalent.

by Jack Love on Jul 9, 2012 2:35 pm • linkreport

I'd disagree that people here on this blog want the government to "force" people to live in high density areas. I think most everyone who contributes would say that what's codified today adheres to the models ascribed in the article (i.e. the prediliction for single use and space) whereas if in the absence of these restrictions the high density would win out over the lower (at least in the metro DC area). That's not saying the government should clear out suburbs, its saying that the government shouldn't assume a default of either high or low density and let the market figure it out.

by drumz on Jul 9, 2012 2:36 pm • linkreport

@Interesting, two differences:
1)currently its the market driving the construction of dense urban, transit oriented developments. There is a demand for this. It is highly sought and valued. I can't think of any example in which current residents are forced out unless you considered the fraught term "gentrification". People pay a premium for it. (This drives the "gentrification").

This plan for Shaw would have destroyed existing homes where people already lived by government plan. Again I can not think of any current project that does that in this area on the big scale that occurred in SW. Can you?

2) This plan for Shaw tightened zoning - it restricted personal freedom. The zoning codes before 1958 allowed more freedom for individuals. The initiative to restore zoning to pre-1958 will grant more personal freedom, not restrict it, as this old plan did.

by Tina on Jul 9, 2012 2:41 pm • linkreport

Bear in mind that their definition of "obsolete" according to the legend is "In 1940 over 50% of dwellings needed major repairs and/or lacked private bath." I'm not sure that I'd use the term Obsolete myself and it's certainly no excuse for social engineering, but I think we can agree that homes that were falling apart or didn't have private bathrooms were below the living standards of the 1950s and could use some renovation at the least.

I guess my point is that while the contents of the document are shocking, the map itself is perhaps somewhat more benign.

by Peter K on Jul 9, 2012 2:42 pm • linkreport

@Interesting - In the 1940s and 1950s, the so-called blighted buildings were worth more than the land under them. Under urban renewal, such buildings were condemned by the government, demolished, and the land was sold to developers of modernist towers at a below-market price.

The current argument is whether existing landowners should be allowed to tear down old buildings themselves and put the land for more economically productive uses.

In either case, there were/are arguments on both sides, but the issues are different.

by Ben Ross on Jul 9, 2012 2:43 pm • linkreport

@ drumz, actually the plans wanted the same, if not more units than what was demolished. It sas that on page 23.

Redevelopment was about demolishing inefficient land usage with efficient land usage. The newly created surplus land could be then be used as open space or for new development.

by crin on Jul 9, 2012 3:01 pm • linkreport

Were the open spaces meant to be redevloped? I'll admit I haven't read through everything and I'm just looking at the maps and such provided in the article.

But if they're talking about efficient vs. inefficient land usage then woo boy are me and the writers of this plan gonna disagree.

by drumz on Jul 9, 2012 3:08 pm • linkreport

Great article. My home is on the map of Capitol Hill, and instead of living near a sane traffic grid, we'd instead be next to a widened arterial.

Another thing I noticed, but not mentioned in the article, the plan for Capitol Hill calls for new federal office buildings where Gallaudet University is. Can you imagine tearing down those beautiful Victorian university buildings and replacing them with 50s/60s era federal offices?!?

The lesson for me is that these planners thought they were doing the best thing for the public with the resources at their disposal. It humbles you to think that your knowledge and understanding of issues might be completely wrong by the standards 50 years from now.

by Will on Jul 9, 2012 3:21 pm • linkreport

crin: That's not what actually ended up happening. Maybe some plans showed more units, but most housing projects of the era removed more units than they created, displacing many people.

by David Alpert on Jul 9, 2012 3:26 pm • linkreport

Again I can not think of any current project that does that in this area on the big scale that occurred in SW.

Atlantic Yards?

Also, can someone explain why Lincoln park utterly fails in this study, while Trinidad and Kingman Park were given a thumbs-up? I know that conditions in these neighborhoods today are vastly different from the way that they were in the 1950s, but my gut feeling is that the latter two neighborhoods have always suffered more from cramped conditions, limited foliage, and unmodernized buildings.

by andrew on Jul 9, 2012 4:13 pm • linkreport

I just wanted to say how much I enjoyed reading this article. I hope you submit it to Atlantic Cities or a think-tank journal. Lots of folks would enjoy reading it.

by MW on Jul 9, 2012 4:26 pm • linkreport

It's easy to laugh at the hubris of planners from the 50s but let's remember that hubris cuts both ways. 60 years from now, some of today's conventional thinking will surely be outdated and proven incorrect. It's always a good idea to remain a little skeptical of "accepted wisdom".

by Falls Church on Jul 9, 2012 4:59 pm • linkreport

By the way, Mount Vernon Square did get some of the redevelopment treatment. My home apartment, the block bounded by M, N, 5th, and 6th NW, was built as housing projects in the 1970s. The ugly, ugly buildings that dot that neighborhood - McCullough, Washington Apartments, and the projects along N - all replaced rowhouses. I guess the authors of this report would be proud.

by OctaviusIII on Jul 9, 2012 5:04 pm • linkreport

Those UR plans don't show lower density- they show up-zoning and high rises, much like SW became. And that was a complete loss of sense of place as Jacobs described.

In DC today Jane Jacobs would be derided as a NIMBY.

by Tom Coumaris on Jul 9, 2012 5:15 pm • linkreport

@Tom

I think you're over simplifying her position. She argues that you need a mix of old and new in a neighborhood to fit the variety of people that they would attract rather than one type of building (in her case tower in the park high rises) that causes the streets to be less vibrant. Aka, the exact type of development these were.

by jj on Jul 9, 2012 7:04 pm • linkreport

Interestingly, the proposal for Southwest was much less radical than what actually got built. The proposal preserves many of the existing structures and much of the street grid, appears to call for low-rise multifamily units, and makes no provision for a freeway. None of that came to pass.

by aces on Jul 9, 2012 8:45 pm • linkreport

@Octavius

By the way, Mount Vernon Square did get some of the redevelopment treatment. My home apartment, the block bounded by M, N, 5th, and 6th NW, was built as housing projects in the 1970s. The ugly, ugly buildings that dot that neighborhood - McCullough, Washington Apartments, and the projects along N - all replaced rowhouses. I guess the authors of this report would be proud.

The 1968 Riots helped with that, too. That provided a lot of the reason for redevelopment, and created a lot of blight by just about anyone's definition.

The clearance of SW DC took place in the 1950s, well before the riots of '68.

by Alex B. on Jul 10, 2012 12:16 am • linkreport

@David Alpert: It's hard to read any part of your initial comment as a fair characterization of anyone. You begin with saying single family homes are not being declared "obsolete." Often that is just an argument over semantics in discussions here (and likely the reason it was in quotes). You then characterize the thoughts of those who don't agree with your ideas as old-fashion while aligning them with an entirely different issue.

by selxic on Jul 10, 2012 4:36 am • linkreport

@David Alpert, my point is that the plan you posted intended to have the same, if not more, units than what existed at the time. That was the plan. And I'm pretty sure many urban renewal plans, including Southwest, achieved that. The failure was that the government initiative relied on private developers to carry it off. Once the financing and building by developers took over from the planners, it was a gradual inflation of rents that resulted in the displacement of the poor. Generally the poor were planned to be rehoused in the new housing, instead they were displaced when the developers set the rents were too damn high.

You need to get a hold of two books with hard numbers from the era. Cities in a Race with Time (1968) and Where are they Now (1966)

Here's a sociology blogger with a synopsis of Where are they Now that would make an interesting coda to the original post. http://sociologyinmyneighborhood.blogspot.com/2011/08/urban-renewal-and-grief-in-ward-6.html

by crin on Jul 10, 2012 6:40 am • linkreport

@OctaviusIII, the housing you're talking about was a second generation of government policy towards housing. After the disappointing results of urban renewal (government use of eminent domain to clear and consolidate land, selling off to private developers for development), the government shifted to a policy of community development block grants. CDBGs cut out the private developers and allowed local populations and institutions (i.e. churches) to have more control of what got built and for whom.

You and I might agree on their aesthetics, but if the community wanted them and got them and now they're safe from displacement, maybe that's a better thing than how they look. It would be interesting what the entire community of residents there thought of the housing, but the fact is I just don't know.

by crin on Jul 10, 2012 6:52 am • linkreport

@Aces, good catch. The NCPC plan was the second big plan for Southwest and the rest of the city. The first plan for Southwest, by Peets for the federal agencies, called for much more restoration of existing housing stock and keeping the street grid. Many considered it too tame and not solving enough of the problem. NCPC took a hybrid approach and called for still some restoration, but lots of areas of clearing a rebuilding. The third plan, and what was ultimately built, was created by the lead developer, Zuckerman. He and hist architects came up with the totalization scheme of clearing everything, rearranging the streets into superblocks, and building everything new.

That sort of design evolution happens when the idea starts in 1947 but isn't finished until the 1970s. That's alot of time and chances for new ideas to look like better ideas.

by crin on Jul 10, 2012 7:01 am • linkreport

@Aces,
I agree that was a good catch. Hegemann & Peets where responsible for the seminal book on urbanism "Civic Art", which through Andres Duany's support was republished (by Rizzoli?) about 15 years ago. That must have been an awfully interesting period of history when all the accumilated knowledge of architecture and urbanism was being discredited for the shinny allure of the modernists.

The idea that today's urban rennaisance is just another fad like the planning of the 1950's is a bit far fetched. If you study western urbanism over the last 2000 years, there are ideas that remain current throughout despite the vagaries of archtiectural fashion. From a modernist perspective, it's as if becasue of modern technology, 2000 years of acummilated wisdom was suddenly obsolete. Much like the wishfull thinking of communist revolutionaries that thought we'd suddenly turn off our greedy instincts for the sake of the whole, modernists believed that becasue of our technological and scientific progress, human nature no longer felt the need of a sense of place, continuity, and least of all, decoration. They naively though that a scientifically verifiable quotient of light and green space would ensure a happy populace, kind of like drug makers today, but I digress. What I found the most telling though is that none of the early modernists would voluntarily live in the projects buildings they declared optimun living arangements for so many others. Kind of like my architecture school professors that where still pedling this stuff in the late 1980's who all went home to their Greenwich Village apartments or Connecticut Colonials. While traditional urbanism can take on a variety of forms and can surely work with every style of building under the sun, this period of will be seen as an aberration in the history of urbanism, at least I hope it will.

by Thayer-D on Jul 10, 2012 7:42 am • linkreport

This is an interesting and compelling article that would have been just as interesting without bringing up racial issues.

by Schwott on Jul 10, 2012 9:18 am • linkreport

@Schwott, except that it wouldn't be an article if it didn't have the racial issues, which was the driving factor for redevelopment. Though all other readers seem to have missed this point as well.

Is the redevelopment we're planning now -- that everyone says we're supposed to regret in 50 years -- based on forcing blacks out of town?

by cts on Jul 10, 2012 10:17 am • linkreport

@David: You have to appreciate that while houses arent being torn down whole sale, there is a shift to densification that is being encouraged by tax subsidies, law changes, and simply spending tax money on one thing and not another. Its not outright coercion, but its about as close as our government can come.

That said, I think its a smart policy and I prefer densification and encouraging people to live together. Its not just me, as you know, there are a ton of accomplished and smart people who are advancing this agenda.

Of course, my point is, there were a ton of really smart and accomplished people in the 1950s too.

One of the biggest repeated mistakes of our past as a human race is always thinking that we've finally got it figured out this time. But, repeatedly, we're proven wrong. My only point is I wonder how the future proves us wrong again...

by Interesting on Jul 10, 2012 10:42 am • linkreport

Not saying there weren't any racial motivations, but the real story is about what we thought was an appropriate way to plan- or zone- out blight. The thought at the time was that superblocks and high-rise development would be the solution. Fortunately, areas like Shaw and Capitol Hill didn't get redeveloped in that way because a lot of DC urban form would have been lost; but unfortunately we are still dealing with an outdated zoning code that doesn't allow contextually appropriate design.

That's the story. Of course the blighted areas would have been predominately black - that goes without saying; and yes, DC has some race issues. but that doesn't have to be brought up at every occassion. That's all.

by Schwott on Jul 10, 2012 10:50 am • linkreport

@Interesting - I appreciate your point about tax incentives etc. However you are ignoring that dense urban, transit oriented developments are highly sought after; that dwellings in these types of communities are valued much higher per sq foot than communities w/o these attributes; that people are willing to pay a premium to live in these types of communities; that it seems there is a shortage of supply of these types of communities. This trend is driven by individuals making personal choices.

by Tina on Jul 10, 2012 11:11 am • linkreport

Every thing you're saying about urbanization is 100% applicable to the rise of the suburbs after WW2. It wasnt like Congress came in and said "and now there will be suburbs". It was a market driven shift. Congress and other policy makers just used the government to expedite it and encourage it. Sound familiar?

by Interesting on Jul 10, 2012 12:43 pm • linkreport

@ Will and Falls Church

Completely agree. As an urban planner myself, it's easy to look at 60's and 70's style "urbanism" and scoff at how misguided it was. But I have no doubt most of the planners and designers at the time felt the same way about suburban, auto-oriented sprawl as we today feel about TOD and walkable, complete neighborhoods.

What I keep coming back to is this: the overall goal of current trends in urban planning (Smart Growth, New Urbanism, etc.) is to minimize use of finite resources and adverse environmental impacts. Promoting dense, transit-oriented development is simply a means to this end. In the future, we may find that this is not the only way to achieve this goal. And that's fine. As technology changes, attitudes about "ideal" urban development will change too. For example, I have no doubt that self-driven cars, should they ever fully materialize, will radically change the way we do transportation planning. Greater acceptance of telework, too, will likely change the way office buildings are developed.

Anyway, my overall point is that it's important for planners, designers, architects, etc. to remain open to new ways of accomplishing their overall goals, and not get too stuck in the attitude that there is only one "right" way. I may enjoy living in a dense urban neighborhood, but that doesn't mean everyone else has to. And if we can find ways for everyone to live in their preferred environments, while minimizing energy and resource consumption, then shouldn't we try to do so?

by silver springer on Jul 10, 2012 1:22 pm • linkreport

@Interesting - It wasnt like Congress came in and said "and now there will be suburbs".

Yes, there was historic rise in demand for new suburbs. (It was driven significantly by the GI Bill.)

But this plan is not for a newly built sub-burb that individuals chose to live in. This is a top-down plan to destroy existing neighborhoods w/ certain attributes and replace them with neighborhoods with different attributes.

You have compared this top-down plan to "force people to live spread out" to the current market driven (individual choice driven) demand for dense urban, transit oriented developments. Maybe you are now comparing it (this top-down UR plan) to the historic mid- 20th c. demand for new suburbs?

by Tina on Jul 10, 2012 1:42 pm • linkreport

@silver springer - +1

by Tina on Jul 10, 2012 1:51 pm • linkreport

All I am saying is that while we think we're so wise now with TOD and urbanization, history will probably scoff at us.

by Interesting on Jul 10, 2012 2:13 pm • linkreport

maybe, but I think a lot of the design that is celebrated here actually relies on the historical principles that have always guided cities. While the 1950 planners were asking if the city was working or not we seem to say that yes, the urban form we're accustomed has probably been the best all along. The new urbanists are the ones who history has scoffed at.

by drumz on Jul 10, 2012 2:22 pm • linkreport

@Interesting - see @silver springer's comment.

by Tina on Jul 10, 2012 2:25 pm • linkreport

...and what @drumz wrote. The traditional city form (like historic Shaw) has been around for many generations. The mid-20th c. (and beyond) experiment was just that; an experiment that contrasted to the centuries old form. In human history its still new. 60 years isn't even a human life-span. And yet in that time we have already seen a significant rejection of the experimental form for various reasons.

by Tina on Jul 10, 2012 2:32 pm • linkreport

@Interesting, re: market purity of suburbs. Whoa. You need to read about the early days of FDR's federal housing policies. He created HOLC, which essentially created mortgage insurance that in turn created the 30 year loan. The thing is they didn't insure anything in cities, or where the housing was old, or whites lived with blacks. But they insured new suburban housing. Buying a house without mortgage insurance was nearly impossible.

by crin on Jul 10, 2012 6:13 pm • linkreport

I'm the guy who scanned the pages. The HistoricWashington Yahoo users group Digest No. 2245 published both the full chapter on Housing and Redevelopment from the 1950 Comprehensive Plan Summary and the large full color map showing the three obscene highways that were to slice through the city, the worst running up Third, along New Jersey, across T, down Florida and dump into Massachusetts. Have a look.

My complaint is with the social planners who want to either tear down or obliterate the old and build either a sterile new or a faux old. An East German guest scholar I met before The Wall came down here in DC said without irony that both Southwest and the Kennedy Center "looked like something we would build." SW reminds me of the brilliant Jacques Tati ("Mon Oncle') every time I drive through it.

I've lived in my wonderfully obsolete home in the Shaw Historic Slum now for 26 years and find the heavy hand of the uninvited Historic Preservation people oppressive. Areas outside of DeeCee's historic districts fare better architecturally (a few outrageous eyesores notwithstanding) and in terms of social development. I don't want to live in a faux "olde tyme" neighborhood of ersatz buildings made over into vacuum-sealed luxury chicken coops inhabited by drab technozombies hunched over in Fritz Lang Metropolis marches too and from work communicating solely by means of glowing hand-held slabs. I've lost all of my front stoop neighbors and the familiar nod and a wave of "hello" from people on the block whom I used to all know by name and look you in the eye.

by Ray Milefsky on Jul 10, 2012 9:20 pm • linkreport

[This comment has been deleted for violating the comment policy.]

by crin on Jul 11, 2012 7:12 am • linkreport

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