The Politics of Downtown Renewal since 1945Roger Biles and Mark H. Rose
The “Pittsburgh Renaissance,” an urban renewal effort launched in the late 1940s, transformed the smoky rust belt city’s downtown. Working-class residents and people of color saw their neighborhoods cleared and replaced with upscale, white residents and with large corporations housed in massive skyscrapers. Pittsburgh’s Renaissance’s apparent success quickly became a model for several struggling industrial cities, including St. Louis, Cleveland, Detroit, Chicago, and Philadelphia.
In A Good Place to Do Business, Roger Biles and Mark Rose chronicle these urban “makeovers” which promised increased tourism and fashionable shopping as well as the development of sports stadiums, convention centers, downtown parks, and more. They examine the politics of these government-funded redevelopment programs and show how city politics (and policymakers) often dictated the level of success.
As city officials and business elites determined to reorganize their downtowns, a deeply racialized politics sacrificed neighborhoods and the livelihoods of those pushed out. Yet, as A Good Place to Do Business demonstrates, more often than not, costly efforts to bring about the hoped-for improvements failed to revitalize those cities, or even their downtowns.
“A Good Place to Do Business brilliantly exposes municipal and business leaders’ decades-long preoccupation with insulating their cities’ downtowns from seismic postwar metropolitan change. They spared no expense, but cities’ most vulnerable citizens paid steeper costs. Through a fresh interpretation of racialized downtown renewal and the people who championed or fought it in five cities, Biles and Rose narrate with precision and clarity an essential but troubling national tale of how myopic, downtown-centered visions for urban revitalization blurred as boosters peered at the city from their gleaming towers.”
—J. Mark Souther, Professor of History at Cleveland State University, and author of Believing in Cleveland: Managing Decline in “The Best Location in the Nation” (Temple)
“A Good Place to Do Business is a powerful yet nuanced story told by two of the most important urban historians writing today. Biles and Rose take us on a fascinating tour of the commercial, investment, and political cultures of big city downtowns in the decades following World War II. Along the way, we meet a plethora of actors, from mayors and ward heelers to corporate executives, planners, consultants, union bosses, and neighborhood residents. And we see a wide range of programs, plans, and schemes, some of which take
shape in glass and steel, others that remain on the drawing board. At the core of this compelling drama are the racial and class politics of urban America, and the sacrifice of working-class and poor neighborhoods in pursuit of the elusive dream of a downtown
renaissance. But the story is not straightforward, and the comparative framework shows different paths and divergent outcomes among Chicago, St. Louis, Detroit, Cleveland, and Philadelphia. It is this comparative approach, and the deft hand of two great scholars, that makes this book an outstanding addition to the literature.”
—Joseph Heathcott, Chair of Urban and Environmental Studies at The New School
"Bringing new detail to the familiar subject of downtown revitalization, veteran historians Roger Biles and Mark Rose offer a compelling critique of urban policy over time as it privileges physical over human capital and produces a troubling view for the future.... (T)hey offer a deeply researched account demonstrating that no matter how many ways policymakers have privileged downtown revitalization, they have fallen short, even as they have done so primarily at the expense of poor and largely minority residents."
—Journal of Urban Affairs
"This coauthored volume by two well-published, distinguished professors of urban history exquisitely explores how US urban renewal policy since 1945 historically privileged the 'downtown' invariably to the detriment of minority-occupied city neighborhoods. Focusing on urban renewal programs in five large cities—Philadelphia, Chicago, St. Louis, Detroit, and Cleveland—the book employs delectable vignettes of pro-growth, neoliberal politicians, business leaders, and planners and unveils how the leadership within these cities followed—almost religiously—the model of postwar Pittsburgh’s 'renaissance'.... Lucidly explained and well written, this volume has much to offer to urban history scholars and students alike.... Summing Up: Recommended."< br/>—Choice
Urban Life, Landscape, and Policy