St. Louis was really good at Urban Renewal. It renewed the riverfront, then renewed a large section of downtown, then renewed the Mill Creek Valley, then renewed a portion of the city to build the Pruitt-Igoe public housing development. The city renewed other swaths of historic decaying structures, replacing them with Interstate highways. So much renewal, so much success.
It’s tempting to think that city leaders and citizens simply didn’t know better half a century ago. Certainly, suburban development, clearing urban “slums” and erecting modernist parking garages, office towers and residential buildings, was said to be the future.
History, at least its first draft, is written by the winners. Urban Renewal was winning. But part of the forgotten history is that people did fight back. Residents did oppose demolition. Activists did go to the courts and seek relief and the protection of their rights.
Today would be Jane Jacobs 100th birthday. Jacobs and supporters of her activism certainly lost more battles than they won, but the wins were big: Boston’s North End, the defeat of the Lower Manhattan Expressway, and others. Undoubtedly, the biggest victory was the birth of a movement, a broad recognition of cities, their fine grain development patterns, and the importance of the sometimes messy, discordant development patters that created interest and vitality for, and by, residents.
In some ways Jacobs needs no introduction, but reading (or re-reading) The Death and Life of Great American Cities is always challenging and enlightening. And there’s more to her life and career than one book. I encourage you to explore her other writing and read more about her life. [Books by Jane Jacobs] [Jane Jacobs on Wikipedia]
More on nextSTL:
- Film Review: The Pruitt-Igoe Myth
- What “The Gateway Arch” by Tracy Campbell Tells Us About St. Louis
- The Incredible Gateway Arch – Popular Mechanics, December 1963
- Colin Gordon Talks Mapping Decline, Vacant Land and Urban Renewal With nextSTL
To honor Jacobs on this day, we share images of Urban Renewal in St. Louis:
The Mill Creek Valley:
The Gateway Mall:
The St. Louis riverfront, now the Jefferson National Expansion Memorial: