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Unformatted text preview: s. As a result, the program soon became embroiled in disputes over the location of housing projects (Bauman 1987; Fairbanks 1988; Straus and Wegg 1938). In addition, the principles of modern design, originally intended to distinguish the projects in a positive way, would in time become a stigma for public housing.4 Troubled midlife of American public housing
After a hiatus in the low-income housing program caused by World War II and rising conservative political sentiment after
4 A nother grievous fault was the tendency to segregate public housing tenants by race. Although the supporters of public housing were liberals and certainly did not consider racial segregation as part of a housing program, Ickes inaugurated a policy, later followed by many federal and local officials, that allotted projects to a single racial group according to the previous composition of the neighborhood. High Ambitions: American Low-Income Housing Policy 431 the war, the passage of the Housing Act of 1949 restarted public housing in the United States (Davies 1966). Reflecting mainstream reformist thought and the demands of the real estate industry, the 1949 law renewed the war against the slum through provisions for slum clearance and new construction, under the rubric of urban redevelopment. Although Congress never met the Act’s ambitious goal of appropriations for 810,000 new public housing units or 135,000 per year, tens of thousands of new units were built annually during the Truman and Eisenhower administrations. Continuing the design traditions of earlier projects, public housing (except in a few large cities) usually consisted of buildings of no more than three stories. Such complexes may have appeared dull from an aesthetic viewpoint and often contained small apartments, but at least they offered some convenience to their inhabitants. The low-rise designs provided a human scale and allowed tenants to view the playgrounds, courts, and gardens under their windows. Thus, the designs allowed residents to supervise their children and maintain surveillance over common areas (Newman 1972). Contrary to Pommer’s (1978) assertion that the public housing program produced no interesting architecture from the late 1930s to the 1960s, the government sponsored some noteworthy projects in the 1950s. The city of San Antonio, for example, produced an interesting variety of one- and two-story row houses and flats that offered ventilation and hillside views, and in Greenwich, Connecticut, city and state housing authorities sponsored a complex of three-story apartment blocks that reiterated Zeilenbau principles on a hill above the New York, New Haven, and Hartford railroad tracks (Progressive Architecture 1952a, 1952b). During the late 1950s and 1960s, nonetheless, high-rise projects came to dominate the image of American public housing. Again European modernism provided the inspiration, but rather than its low-rise Zeilenbau manifestation, it now took the form of Le Corbusier’s airy visions of towers rising out of vast expanses of grass and gr...
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