- Rehabbing Housing, Rehabbing People: West 114th Street and the Failed Promise of Housing Rehabilitation
- Buildings & Landscapes: Journal of the Vernacular Architecture Forum
- University of Minnesota Press
- Volume 26, Number 2, Fall 2019
- pp. 43-72
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This article explores the rehabilitation of a tenement block of Harlem's West 114th Street in the late 1960s in order to examine the nature of housing rehabilitation as a common architectural practice in the aftermath of midcentury urban renewal. Rehabilitation became an antidote to renewal's human and architectural costs by promising the retention of buildings and the people who inhabited them. Sponsors intended the West 114th Street project to be a model for such approaches, generating extensive documentation in a book, documentary film, and local and national press. Yet a close reading of the project and this multimedia record suggests a more complex—and often fraught—history of rehabilitation. Despite promising to pursue architectural and social interventions equally on a block struggling with poverty and drug addiction, backers came to prioritize the physical at the expense of the social. Moreover, in their drive to showcase the architectural transformation that provided the most compelling images of this as a model project, rehab supporters espoused a physically determinist view that architectural change was itself enough to solve difficult socioeconomic challenges. Rehabilitation thus ultimately repeated many of urban renewal's mistakes, leaving residents still struggling in homes whose physical improvements proved fleeting.