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Unformatted text preview: e apartment blocks in developments such as Old Harbor Village in Boston, the Jane Addams Houses in Chicago (see figure 3), and Willert Park in Buffalo lacked the graceful doorways and roof lines and the varied landscaping found in the better-looking projects. Their interpretations of functionallooking modern design appeared austere rather than elegant. If mediocre in architectural terms, these projects were quite serviceable nonetheless and well appreciated by their communities and residents. A few projects such as Parklawn in Milwaukee, La Salle Place in Louisville, and Cheatham Place in Nashville resembled traditional domestic architecture. Adorned with familiar pitched roofs, doorways, and backyards, these intimately scaled one- and two-story row houses were more homey than many of the modernist projects (Architectural Forum 1938). Whatever the quality and type of design, the idealistic planning principles used in all early public housing developments also helped endow them with the “project” identity that public housing would wear for decades afterward. To distinguish public housing complexes from the tawdry environment of the slums and to incorporate the community planning principles espoused by Henry Wright, Clarence Stein, and others, the government developments invariably were designed as discrete residential
Figure 3. View of Jane Addams Houses, Chicago, IL Source: Architectural Forum 68(5), May 1938. Photograph by Wesley Bauman. 430 Alexander von Hoffman entities. By placing the housing complexes in superblocks, the designs separated them from surrounding streets and neighborhoods (Plunz 1990; Pommer 1978). The fact that the new housing developments were composed of apartments also contributed to the distinctive image of public housing. At the time, over threequarters of all American families lived in single-family houses; public housing projects presented a contrast with the types of residences occupied by most Americans. Despite the deviations of public housing in type and appearance from other American homes, early academic research into the effects of public housing seemingly confirmed the principles of environmental determinism. Chapin (1940), for example, claimed that public housing actually improved the social behavior of the poor. However, his use of sophisticated mathematical analysis of survey data disguised methodological assumptions that were heavily biased toward the optimistic findings. The establishment of a public housing program in the United States was a remarkable achievement, but the vaulting ambitions of public housing’s supporters created pitfalls for the program. Location of the projects, for example, proved vexing. Many of the supporters of public housing planned to build most new public housing on inexpensive land on the outskirts of cities and let the inner-city slums gradually wither away on their own. This approach, however, flew in the face of their own rhetoric about the need to solve the immediate crisis of the slums and contradicted the wishes of conservatives who believed government should house the very poor only in inner-city low-income neighborhood...
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