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REXROTH, Kenneth "Urbanism and Community Planning"

Monday 22 August 2005, by ps

When that I was but a little tiny lad there existed in America a fairly substantial organization devoted to realizing the city described in Edward Bellamy’s Looking Backward. When I came to youth’s estate I marveled over the cities of the future, those illimitable geometrical icebergs that calved from the fertile Conté crayon of Norman Bel Geddes. In early manhood I was sold the radiant city of Le Corbusier because I had never seen an actual building by the man. Now the city of the future is here, and you can look at it in the pages of the picture magazines and the news weeklies. It looks just as pretty as it ever did in the pages of Vanity Fair. Living in it is another matter.

A recent lavish cover story in Time portrays the years of urban renewal as a spectacular success where squalor has been replaced by splendor to the satisfaction of all concerned. This is pure bunk. The first years of urban renewal were used simply to try to expel Negroes from potentially valuable property near the city centers. What resulted were acres of rubble punctuated by a few expensive, uncomfortable vertical ice-cube trays surrounded by a hard doughnut ring of doubled-up and redoubled slum dwellers. This, in cities where high-rise apartments and condominiums were already overbuilt. Across Thirty-Fifth Street from Lake Meadows, Chicago’s Negro slums are doubling in density of population, which means that they are increasing geometrically in the social sicknesses known as “slum conditions.” Northward the rubble stretches away where once stood the finest examples of America’s finest domestic architecture — the work of Richardson and Sullivan and their contemporaries.

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