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Chapter 8 Civitas in the Design of Low-Income Housing If nineteenth-century reformers considered the home the crucible for shaping individual citizenship, their twentieth-century successors thought increasingly in terms of affecting whole communities of citizens. From the Progressive Era to the present, activists have sought not just decent homes but better neighborhood environments. The introduction, in the 1930s, of publicly provided housing added new powers to shape urban civic life. Here, in what was originally considered temporary quarters for those whose incomes excluded them from the opportunities available only in the private market, it was believed that proper design could encourage sociability and enhance solidarity. Increasingly, the goal of housing reform became that of producing ‘‘better citizens.’’1 Yet such hopes, if realized in particular instances, proved illusory over the long term. Well before the Department of Housing the Urban Development adopted New Urbanist design guidelines for public housing in 1996, the promise of civic revival in such conditions had turned darkly sour. Concentrations of poor residents, many them appearing permanently excluded from private markets, struggled with the dire social effects of poverty, carrying the extra burden of the stigma of living lives apart from mainstream society. A late twentieth-century consensus called for their dispersal, their once exclusively poor neighborhoods replaced with mixed-income communities, and their own lives changed by their exposure to those of greater means. Physical design remained important in such decisions, not least in the HOPE VI reconstruction projects. Still, significant problems remained. If critics agreed that concentrating the poor was bad, they did not necessarily agree on what better alternatives existed for those of limited income. Once income limits were lifted in new public housing projects, it became increasingly difficult to accommodate all former residents. The Department of Housing and Urban PAGE 134 ................. 17669$ $CH8 02-23-10 14:12:01 PS Civitas in the Design of Low-Income Housing 135 Development offered rent certificates to help them enter the private market, many in suburbs rich in opportunities lacking in the urban areas they were leaving. But there they faced all the elements of social as well as physical isolation complained about by the New Urbanists. Where was the formula for integrating concepts of social justice with good design? In addressing poverty in place, civitas-by-design faced its most difficult test. Publicly supported housing emerged in the 1930s out of mixed motivations . Created as part of the New Deal primarily as a stimulus to a depressed economy, the opportunity nonetheless represented the culmination of a long campaign forged by those who had come to believe in the necessity of a noncommercial source of shelter for those most in need. That movement gained the support of many advocates of philanthropic housing as well as a number involved in the federal government’s brief experiment in housing during World War I. Catherine Bauer, RPAA member and an admirer of the communitarian elements of Ebenezer Howard’s Garden City ideal,2 provided the chief intellectual framework for the movement, most prominently in her 1934 book, Modern Housing. Working with unions that had been converted recently to the concept of public housing as a means of sustaining solidarity among its members, Bauer took a lead role in making that idea a permanent government commitment through passage of the National Housing Act of 1937. Not incidentally, Robert Kohn, fellow RPAA member and director of the Emergency Ship Corporation during World War I, served as the initial director of the New Deal’s Public Works Administration ’s Housing Division. Before the U.S. Supreme Court ruled in 1936 that the federal government could no longer provide housing directly to communities, Kohn utilized federal funds to support limited dividend companies across the country. True to his commitment to community-oriented design, these early models incorporated the best elements tested during and after World War I.3 One of the first and most prominent examples of New Deal efforts were the Carl Mackley Houses in Northeast Philadelphia. Built for the American Federation of Full Fashioned Hosiery Workers, Mackley was intended to offer an alternative to conventional homes, what project architect Oscar Stonorov labeled ‘‘fortresses of individualism.’’ Instead, he envisioned a complex that by offering opportunities for sociability would build solidarity among workers. ‘‘Housing projects must be more than mere sanitarily constructed and equipped dwellings,’’ he wrote. ‘‘They must be sources of community happiness. They fail if these sources, namely equipment for recreation and education of the baby, the child...

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Additional Information

ISBN
9780812205282
Related ISBN
9780812242478
MARC Record
OCLC
794700586
Pages
216
Launched on MUSE
2012-01-01
Language
English
Open Access
No
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