We made this map by investigating the urban renewal and neighborhood redevelopment master plans that NYC Housing Preservation and Development (HPD) has in their archives and by relying on a few secondary sources produced by NYC Government offices.
Although we would love to share the actual plans here, we can’t because we could not afford to purchase copies at 25 cents per page from HPD; this is the statutory rate under the New York State Freedom of Information Law (FOIL). FOIL also requires government agencies to make their documents available for inspection; we took advantage of that portion of the law to arrange for a team of dedicated volunteers to visit the HPD Records Access office regularly for about a year to extract the information you see on the NYC Urban Reviewer from the documents. Our volunteers were not allowed to photograph or make copies of the plans.
Here are two books that we found particularly helpful: NYC Department of Housing Preservation and Development. Community Development Progress Report: 1968. Prepared and edited by Nathan Sobel. New York City, 1968.
NYC Department of Housing Preservation and Development. Atlas of Urban Renewal Project Areas in the City of New York. Prepared and edited by Nathan Sobel. New York City, 1984.
A full bibliography is available upon request.
There is a bill in the NYC Council called the OpenFOIL bill that would make a big difference in our ability to see and share government documents: it requires city agencies to post all requested documents to a public web portal after even a single request. If this law was in effect today, HPD would be obliged to post all the plans below. As it is, you have to rely on the careful notes taken by our volunteers.
HPD provided us with a list of all the plans that ever existed but was not able to actually give us access to all the plans on their list. Although the NYC Urban Reviewer map contains each of those plans, for the ones that HPD has not yet produced, details are missing about planned uses for the included lots. We are continuing to look for the following plans that were missing from HPD’s responses to our numerous requests to date:
- 49th Street-1st Avenue (adopted approx. 1972)*
- Bergen Street (adopted approx. 1972)*
- Lindsay Park (adopted in 1962)
- Lindsay-Bushwick (adopted approx. 1969)
- Rutland Road (adopted approx. 1971)*
- Wallabout (adopted 1989)
- Bella Vista (adopted approx. 1973)
- Corlears Hook (adopted 1952)
- East 3rd Street-Avenue C (adopted approx. 1969)*
- Hester-Allen Street (adopted approx. 1969)*
- Morningside-Manhattanville (adopted approx. 1956)
- Penn Station South (adopted 1955)
- Seward Park (adopted approx. 1952) (This one really surprises us! It’s a really high profile stalled redevelopment that has gotten some recent coverage in the New York Times.)
- United Nations (adopted 1970)
- West Park (adopted 1952)
- College Point
This list will be updated and detailed planned use information will be added as it becomes available. If you have the most recent revision of any of the plans above and would like to share it, please contact us.
What is urban renewal and master planning for our neighborhoods? Who makes comprehensive neighborhood plans and why? How have decisions been made about master planning in our cities? What kinds of narratives were used to promote urban renewal plans?
The following books, articles, photos, and films explore questions related to urban renewal and master planning in New York and other cities. We found them helpful to understanding the past and future of planning in our city. This is not a definitive guide but a recommended entry point. We’d love to get your feedback on this list and any insights you have from reading, watching and looking.
“Life in the model city: stories of urban renewal in New Haven,”
The New Haven Oral History Project (2004)
In a span of 15 years (from 1954 to 1969) more than 25,000 people were relocated from their homes in New Haven, Connecticut as part of the “model cities” program. This oral history project investigates what it was like to live through such massive changes, from the perspective of people who lived in the city during the time.
Adam Purple and the Garden of Eden
Harvey Wang and Amy Brost (2011)
In 1975, on the crime-ridden Lower East Side, Adam Purple started a garden behind his tenement home. By 1986, The Garden of Eden was world famous and had grown to 15,000 square feet. For Adam – a social activist, philosopher, artist, and revolutionary – the Garden was the medium of his political and artistic expression. It was razed by the city in 1986 after a protracted court battle. This film documents the creation of this artwork and its ultimate destruction.
Historical Photos of all NYC buildings from 1939-1941 and 1983-1988
NYC Department of Records
This website has photos from both the era before urban renewal projects and after urban renewal: a useful reference to see the drastic changes to NYC neighborhoods in the second half of the 20th century.
The Pruitt-Igoe Myth
Documentary directed by Chad Fredericks (2011)
It began as a housing marvel. Two decades later, it ended in rubble. But what happened to those caught in between? The Pruitt-Igoe Myth tells the story of the transformation of the American city in the decades after World War II, through the lens of the infamous Pruitt-Igoe housing development and the St. Louis, Missouri residents who called it home.
The World that Moses Built (excerpts of this classic film available online)
PBS American Experience Documentary (1989)
In the 20th century Robert Moses became known for his large projects such as Triborough Bridge, Jones Beach State Park, Verrazano-Narrows Bridge, West Side Highway or Long Island parkway system. This epic documentary explores the role of NYC master-planner Robert Moses in shaping New York City, and ultimately urban policy in the United States.
“New Yorkers Without a Voice”
Arthur Simon (1966)
The pastor of a Lutheran church near the Tompkins Square urban renewal area wrote this article in 1966 to explain the context and impact of the urban renewal planned for the community around his church.
“The Unplanned City”
City Limits Magazine (January 2011)
In January 2011, City Limits magazine published an issue about city planning in New York. There are a series of articles in this issue that explore in depth how planning happens in New York City. City Limits looks at the past, present and possible future of planning in New York, with reporting from the South Bronx to the Brooklyn waterfront to suburban Staten Island and lessons from Miami to Portland. The ultimate question explored is “whose dreams will decide” the future of the city?
“Boston’s West End: Urban Obsolescence in Mid-Twentieth Century America,”
Daniel Abrahamson chapter in Governing by Design: Architecture, Politics and Economy in the 20th Century (2012)
Daniel Abrahamson explains how planners and policy makers understanding of neighborhoods changed in the 20th century using the case study of Boston’s West End–a neighborhood that Boston’s City Planning Board declared to be “obsolete” in 1951. Abrahamson investigates the contested politics surrounding the classification of obsolescence and the shift in how neighborhoods slated for annihilation were described from metaphors of irrelevant technology to metaphors of disease.
“The Failure of Urban Renewal”
Herbert Gans in Commentary Magazine (1956).
Herbert Gans became known for his careful study of Boston’s West end immigrant communities (The Urban Villagers: Group and Class in the Life of Italian Americans, published first in 1963), just before they were relocated as part of an urban renewal plan in the 1950s. In this article, Gans questions the conventional wisdom of categorizing and labeling poor city neighborhoods. He explains how urban renewal programs so often failed to meet their goals of improving the lives of poor city residents, as he pushed for a serious evaluation and reconsideration of slum clearance and urban renewal policies.
“The Return of Urban Renewal,”
Susan Fainstein in Harvard Design Magazine (2005).
Susan Fainstein argues that the post WWII urban renewal paradigm has been revived in recent years, especially in the name of “economic development” for New York City neighborhoods. She explores why policy makers are once again interested in larger scale urban master planning in New York City and how these efforts are conceived by policy makers, and begins to question the implications of such a turn.
“Root Shock: The Consequences of African American Dispossession”
Mindy Fullilove in The Journal of Urban Health (2001)
Dr. Mindy Fullilove defines root shock as the traumatic stress reaction to the loss of some or all of one’s emotional ecosystem. Fullilove explains how urban renewal programs have disproportionately burdened African American communities with root shock trauma.
“A Community Erased by Slum Clearance is Reunited,”
Nate Schwebber article in New York Times (2011)
This article is about a reunion of residents who were displaced by a NYC slum clearance plan on the Upper West Side. One resident still remembers her neighborhood: “I was very angry about it because there was nothing wrong with our neighborhood… It wasn’t a slum; why tear it down?”
“How the Coastline Became a Place to Put the Poor,”
Jonathan Mahler article in New York Times (2012)
Jonathan Mahler explains the development and persistence of large scale master-planned public housing projects in New York, specifically their concentration along the waterfront or at the urban fringe. In particular, Mahler explores NYC sites such as the Rockaways, Coney Island, and Red Hook.
Tom Angotti (2008), New York For Sale: Community Planning Confronts Global Real Estate
Angotti, both observer of and longtime participant in New York community planning, focuses on the close relationships among community planning, political strategy, and control over land. After describing the political economy of New York City real estate, its close ties to global financial capital, and the roots of community planning in social movements and community organizing, Angotti turns to specific case studies to explain community planning in the context of global real estate.
Thomas Bender (2002), The Unfinished City: New York and the Metropolitan Idea
Historian Thomas Bender traces a history from the humble beginnings of early New York City to its present towering influence. And in this he shows how the city is ultimately a place of possibility, full of unfinished work to be done. This is the metropolitain idea that draws us to engage with the city.
Italo Calvino (1972), Invisible Cities
Sometimes fiction is better at explaining the reality and complexity of urban life than than fact: a imaginative inspiration for the creativity of the work that we have to do together. With a magical imagery Calvino weaves together fragments of a city past with the patient reminder that the small seemingly insignificant actions and dreams come together to create what we call the city: “without the stones there is no arch.”
Anthony Flint (2009), Wrestling with Moses: How Jane Jacobs took on New York’s master builder and transformed the American city
Did you know that the now famous Washington Square Park in NYC almost had a highway driven through it? This is the story of how a small group of New Yorkers saved Greenwich Village from large scale urban renewal master plans. Anthony Flint depicts the relationship between two key urban figures of the 20th century, Jane Jacobs and Robert Moses, as a dramatic struggle for the for the soul of a city.
Mindy Fullilove (2005), Root Shock: How Tearing up Neighborhoods Hurts America and What we Can Do About it
Large scale urban renewal plans that remake entire neighborhoods do not only change the physical form of cities. They also leave a lasting scar on the people who are (often forcibly) relocated as their homes are bulldozed. Mindy Fullilove explains why the traumatic stress reaction related to the destruction of a person’s emotional ecosystem is called “root shock.” She specifically analyzes the racial implications of root shock, along with the massive urban disinvestment in poor African American communities that accompanied root shock.
Jane Jacobs (1961), Death and Life of Great American Cities
In her now widely-read account of 20th century urban planning, Jacobs explains how labels like “slum” and “blight” were used to classify urban neighborhoods in advance of massive demolition (and so-called renewal) of mostly immigrant and minority communities. The book became famous mostly for her insightful observations of everyday urban life told in a compelling narrative style. Jacobs explains how the diversity and organized complexity of thriving neighborhoods can easily overlooked from the removed distance of a large-scale master plan. She inspires us to go out in the city and participate in urban life!
Hillel Levine and Lawrence Harmon (1993), The Death of an American Jewish Community: a tragedy of good intentions
In this case study of a Boston neighborhood, Levine and Harmon show how forces external to the Black and Jewish communities of Boston undermined their relationship. From outside observers who romanticized the possibility of racial harmony in the 1960s to profit hungry banks eager to perpetuate harassment, panic selling, and violence, the book explores how a neighborhood’s demographics can change so swiftly and dramatically. The reader is left with the important lesson that even the best intentions of an outsider/observer can create chaos and crisis.
Danny Lyon (1967), The Destruction of Lower Manhattan
(see book review here)
Danny Lyon chronicles the demolition of 60 acres of buildings south of Canal Street, some that were part of Lower Manhattan urban renewal projects. This rare collection of photographs shows an important portrait of the the city we know now came to be.
Sarah Schulman (2012), The Gentrification of the Mind: Witness to a Lost Imagination
This book explores how neighborhoods known for their creativity, diversity affordability have been replaced by increasingly expensive homogenized privatized experiences. Sarah Schulman explores how gentrification and neighborhood change is not just about physical change or new people moving into a neighborhood. She uses rebellious queer culture of the 1980s to reveal how gentrification is about the undermining of of cultural creativity and diversity.
Walter Thabit (2003), How East New York Became a Ghetto
From his own experience working with the community of East New York in the 1960s, Walter Thabit explains the forces behind the dramatic decline of a once flourishing neighborhood. Thabit’s observations about the lingering impacts of racially biased policies provides a powerful explanation of what a ghetto is and how ghettos are created or sustained.
Deborah Wallace and Roderick Wallace (2001), A Plague Upon Your Houses: How New York Was Burned Down and National Health Crumbled
A mathematician and an ecologist write together to analyze a forgotten public policy history of New York: the fire and municipal service cuts in the South Bronx, Harlem, Brownsville, and East New York. As people’s homes burned down with no fire trucks to put out the fires, policy makers claimed that this was all part of a “planned shrinkage” necessary for the city. Careful analysis reveals the scientific flaws and devastating public health consequences of planned shrinkage.
Samuel Zipp (2010), Manhattan Projects: The Rise and Fall of Urban Renewal in Cold War New York
In this historical account of urban renewal in NYC, Samuel Zipp reveals forgotten stories about the people, politics and history of several iconic urban renewal plans including the United Nations building, Stuyvesant Town, Lincoln Center, and the great swaths of public housing in East Harlem. The result is a compelling history about who shapes cities, how they shape cities, and how the impacts of past interventions builds the city we know today.
Alex S. Vitale (2008), City of Disorder: How the Quality of Life Campaign Transformed New York Politics
Alex Vitale explains the politics of categorizing and labeling groups of people as dirty, dangerous, or disorderly, specifically through his study of the “Quality of Life” campaign of NYC in the 1990s.