Reclaiming Public Housing: A Half Century of Struggle in Three Public Neighborhoods

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Overview

In Reclaiming Public Housing, Lawrence Vale explores the rise, fall, and redevelopment of three public housing projects in Boston. Vale looks at these projects from the perspectives of their low-income residents and assesses the contributions of the design professionals who helped to transform these once devastated places during the 1980s and 1990s.

The three similarly designed projects were built at the same time under the same government program and experienced similar declines. Each received comparable funding for redevelopment, and each design team consisted of first-rate professionals who responded with similar "defensible space" redesign plans. Why, then, was one redevelopment effort a nationally touted success story, another only a mixed success, and the third a widely acknowledged failure? The book answers this key question by situating each effort in the context of specific neighborhood struggles. In each case, battles over race and poverty played out somewhat differently, yielding wildly different results.

At a moment when local city officials throughout America are demolishing more than 100,000 units of low-income housing, this crucial book questions the conventional wisdom that all large public housing projects must be demolished and rebuilt as mixed-income neighborhoods.

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Editorial Reviews

Journal of American History

Professor Lawrence J. Vale offers a detailed and multilayered analysis of the history of the three Boston public housing projects — West Broadway, Franklin Field, and Commonwealth. This interdisciplinary study not only relies on traditional archival sources such as the Boston Housing Authority Records and the John F. Collins Papers but uses more than three hundred interviews with public housing residents…Vale effectively uses the history of all three projects to prescribe actions to salvage the large-scale public housing. The book, which should be added to the short list of must-read studies of public housing, is persuasively argued, clearly written, and effectively argued. Its findings have significance far beyond Boston…The larger lessons given by this excellent study have relevance to scholars, officials, and activists committed to salvaging public housing.
— Robert B. Fairbanks

Canadian Journal of Urban Research

[ Reclaiming Public Housing] is based on rich historical studies of three Boston public housing projects initiated between 1949 and 1954 that were selected for redevelopment in the 1980s after slipping into serious crises…One of the strengths of this study is its comparative approach…Those looking for simple "one-size-fits-all" solutions will be disappointed. Vale doesn't believe that private or public management is inherently better, that design determines outcomes, or that mixing incomes will necessarily improve community social capital. What he does believe is that, despite decades of often brutal mismanagement, tenants can be effectively engaged to work with concerned management to find solutions to some of the problems that have accumulated…This is a well-researched, carefully nuanced story of three distinctive urban places. Not only will it provide a variety of insights into the politics of public housing redevelopment, it is also a captivating read along the way.
— Alan Smart

Karen Franck
This is an outstanding book that makes a significant contribution to both the literature on public housing and the literature on urban neighborhoods in the U.S. The weaving together, in a detailed but comprehensive manner, of the complete histories of these three projects and their surrounding neighborhoods is masterly. Even though the book contains a great amount of information, it is easy to read and remains interesting throughout. There is simply no other book like this.
sam Bass Warner
This is an extraordinary work. I know of no one who has put such sustained scholarly effort and skill into an examination of the details of commonplace urban life, and I know of no one who has put so much thoroughness and energy into public housing case studies. The range of detail is astonishing, but it is packaged in a well-written narrative, not a dreary commentary on some social science tables. Altogether it is an extraordinary work because its intense scholarship witnesses its call for respect.
Rachel G. Bratt
Vale is an extraordinary urban historian. His language has a clarity and a lilt and the stories he tells are presented in a lively style and with a fine attention to detail. Incorporating the comments of some of the hundreds of people whom he interviewed, and mining archival materials, Vale weaves together a lively chronology of three public housing developments, the environment in which they grew, and the challenges they faced. This is a top-notch piece of work.
Journal of American History - Robert B. Fairbanks
Professor Lawrence J. Vale offers a detailed and multilayered analysis of the history of the three Boston public housing projects -- West Broadway, Franklin Field, and Commonwealth. This interdisciplinary study not only relies on traditional archival sources such as the Boston Housing Authority Records and the John F. Collins Papers but uses more than three hundred interviews with public housing residents…Vale effectively uses the history of all three projects to prescribe actions to salvage the large-scale public housing. The book, which should be added to the short list of must-read studies of public housing, is persuasively argued, clearly written, and effectively argued. Its findings have significance far beyond Boston…The larger lessons given by this excellent study have relevance to scholars, officials, and activists committed to salvaging public housing.
Canadian Journal of Urban Research - Alan Smart
[ Reclaiming Public Housing] is based on rich historical studies of three Boston public housing projects initiated between 1949 and 1954 that were selected for redevelopment in the 1980s after slipping into serious crises…One of the strengths of this study is its comparative approach…Those looking for simple "one-size-fits-all" solutions will be disappointed. Vale doesn't believe that private or public management is inherently better, that design determines outcomes, or that mixing incomes will necessarily improve community social capital. What he does believe is that, despite decades of often brutal mismanagement, tenants can be effectively engaged to work with concerned management to find solutions to some of the problems that have accumulated…This is a well-researched, carefully nuanced story of three distinctive urban places. Not only will it provide a variety of insights into the politics of public housing redevelopment, it is also a captivating read along the way.
Journal of American History
Professor Lawrence J. Vale offers a detailed and multilayered analysis of the history of the three Boston public housing projects -- West Broadway, Franklin Field, and Commonwealth. This interdisciplinary study not only relies on traditional archival sources such as the Boston Housing Authority Records and the John F. Collins Papers but uses more than three hundred interviews with public housing residents…Vale effectively uses the history of all three projects to prescribe actions to salvage the large-scale public housing. The book, which should be added to the short list of must-read studies of public housing, is persuasively argued, clearly written, and effectively argued. Its findings have significance far beyond Boston…The larger lessons given by this excellent study have relevance to scholars, officials, and activists committed to salvaging public housing.
— Robert B. Fairbanks
Canadian Journal of Urban Research

[ Reclaiming Public Housing] is based on rich historical studies of three Boston public housing projects initiated between 1949 and 1954 that were selected for redevelopment in the 1980s after slipping into serious crises…One of the strengths of this study is its comparative approach…Those looking for simple "one-size-fits-all" solutions will be disappointed. Vale doesn't believe that private or public management is inherently better, that design determines outcomes, or that mixing incomes will necessarily improve community social capital. What he does believe is that, despite decades of often brutal mismanagement, tenants can be effectively engaged to work with concerned management to find solutions to some of the problems that have accumulated…This is a well-researched, carefully nuanced story of three distinctive urban places. Not only will it provide a variety of insights into the politics of public housing redevelopment, it is also a captivating read along the way.
— Alan Smart
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780674008984
  • Publisher: Harvard University Press
  • Publication date: 12/28/2002
  • Edition description: New Edition
  • Pages: 496
  • Sales rank: 1,232,347
  • Product dimensions: 6.70 (w) x 9.00 (h) x 1.30 (d)

Meet the Author

Lawrence J. Vale is Professor of Urban Studies and Planning, Massachusetts Institute of Technology.
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Table of Contents

Preface

Figures and Tables

1. Introduction: Reclaiming Public Housing

Public Housing: Critics and Apologists

Public Neighborhoods

Public Housing as Constructed Communities

The Stigma of the Projects

Public Housing Transformations: Public and Private

Public Housing in Boston

Pressures on Public Housing

Three Boston Public Neighborhoods

2. West Broadway: Public Housing for "Lower-End" Whites

South Boston's Lower End before Public Housing

Public Housing and South Boston's Lower End, 1935-1965

The D Street Wars

Assaults on the Project

Assaults by the Press

The Residents Fight Back

The Fight for Redevelopment

Success and Distress

3. Franklin Field: Public Housing, Neighborhood Abandonment, and Racial Transition

Franklin Field's Origins: The Geography of Marginality

Housing Veterans on Franklin Field

The Long Decline

Lurching toward Redevelopment

The Limits of Redeveloped Housing

Accounting for Failure

4. Commonwealth: Public Housing and Private Opportunities

Boston's "Wild West": Brighton before Public Housing

Public Housing on Brighton's Last Farm

Fidelis Way, Scourge of the Neighborhood

Redevelopment Partnership: A Three-Way Street

Assessing "Success"

5. Reclaiming Housing, Recovering Communities: A Comparison of Neighborhood Struggles

Trajectories of Collapse

Trajectories of Redevelopment

Seven Kinds of Success

Expanding and Applying the Measures of Success

Recovering Communities

Signs of Life?

Note on Literature and Methods

Notes

Credits

Index

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