Monday, October 17, 2011

Hope VI and Public Housing: The More Things Change...

Stephen Smith has posted a perceptive article critiquing the design of contemporary public housing projects.  The story of public housing over the last 20 years is largely the story of the Hope VI program, which was adopted by Congress in the early 1990s to provide a source of federal funding for rehabilitating, and even more so demolishing and rebuilding, distressed public housing.  Accompanying the new funding initiative was a new design philosophy: HUD secretary Henry Cisneros embraced the principles of the Charter of the New Urbanism the mid 1990s, reflecting a change in course from the tower-in-the-park design principles which had prevailed for many decades. 

This was not an empty gesture, as a vaguely New Urbanist design approach came to be reflected in dozens of Hope VI projects built over the ensuing fifteen years.  But just how new was this approach, really?  A close examination of justifications given for the projects themselves reveals certain overriding concerns, which for those familiar with the history of urban planning in the 20th century may seem familiar, but which have little do with New Urbanist principles.

A concrete example might help illustrate the point.  The project I'm most familiar with is the recent Hope VI redevelopment of Nashville's J. Henry Hale Homes, a project that was typical of the low-rise public housing constructed in Nashville during the 1950s.  Although the original project was demolished around 2006, Google earth shows it as it existed before:


The buildings shown are all two-story structures.  The planning principles at work in creating such a development were perhaps not as careless and insensitive as they're sometimes made out to be:
"...[W]ith houses and gardens in compact groups ... there can be playgrounds for different age-groups and parks and perhaps even a community center, instead of dead chasms between houses and acres of unnecessary pavement in streets, sidewalks and alleys. The whole neighborhood may be just one super-block, which means complete play safety for the children and clean, quiet green surroundings and outlook for all the houses. For access to the houses there may be small dead-end streets. Garages and parking spaces are conveniently located at the nearby street-front. The house itself, shallow and never more than two rooms deep, has sun in every room and far more real privacy than an 'individual' house on a narrow lot."    -Catherine Bauer, A Citizen's Guide to Public Housing (1940).
This is hardly traditional urbanism, but there is a clear acknowledgement here of the problems of welcoming the automobile into the heart of a residential environment, as well as a backlash against the repetitive, amenity-poor process of speculative lot subdivision that had characterized the seven decades or so preceding 1940.  The development relegates the handful of parking lots in groups to the fringes of the development, or to dead-end access ways.  The few auto streets are quite narrow and naturally control speed with T-intersections and sharp turns.  Far more numerous are the narrow pedestrian paths linking the housing units to the streets and to the two large park areas within the project.  Overall, it is a pedestrian-focused environment, with a balance of built space, streets and park space reminiscent of a college campus. 

For reasons that have been hotly debated, this project, like many others, quickly degenerated into a focal point for crime and poverty. Was it the fault of its design?  Nashville's director of the Metro Development and Housing Agency, Phil Ryan, thinks so:

“Part of the problem with public housing in the U.S. is overly dense housing that’s unappealing and unattractive,” Ryan explained. “The extreme density has created a bad environment for people. ... We think a beautiful mixed-income neighborhood is a net gain for low-income people versus an overly dense, traditional 60-year-old housing development,” Ryan said.
Does this sound at all familiar to the claims of the early 20th century Progressive housing reformers?  It's a position Jacob Riis would have applauded, and which Lewis Mumford might have endorsed.  The key elements might be summarized as environmental determinism, or belief that one's built surroundings influence social behavior, and out of that thinking a belief that decongestion, or a dispersal of population, is the best means of positively influencing behavior -- among a certain segment of the population anyways.  (At least, the Nashville planners, to my knowledge, have never criticized nearby high-end condominium developments for being "overly dense.")   These are not mere idle words, on this project (see below) or others, as a net loss of housing units is characteristic of the entire Hope VI program.

In any event, here is the new project, developed with $20 million in federal Hope VI funding:


A comparison of the projects reveals the following changes:


Is $20 million dollars for a loss of 255 housing units a good use of taxpayer money, one could ask, even if the new units are of higher quality?   Long-term maintenance liabilities have presumably increased as well, with the total paved surface increasing from 7% to 30% to serve less than half the number of units.  And of the new street grid, that presumably New Urbanist-inspired addition?  Does this automobile connectivity serve any purpose in the absence of the mixed uses that New Urbanism advocates but which are absent here, or have Catherine Bauer's "acres of unnecessary pavement" simply reappeared?

The streets have been dramatically widened, flattened and straightened, as well, which has necessitated the placement of speed bumps throughout the project:


And although an article touting the project refers to it as "a neighborhood with real front and backyards, green space and duplex homes," not only has green space been reduced and identifiable parks nearly eliminated, the homes do not, in fact, have backyards:


Front yards do exist, though, with thoughtfully-located utility boxes.  Brick is reserved only for the facades, or rather parts of the facades:


I'll let the reader compare the design and aesthetics of these homes to those of the nearby Andrew Jackson Courts, public housing built some 15 years before the original J. Henry Hale homes:


With this design-focused analysis I won't delve into the city's motives, why it might have wanted to dramatically reduce density in existing public housing projects, or whether the city planners truthfully believed their own pronouncements on density.  The project did "succeed" at largely replacing the population in the project, and there is evidence that tenant management, one the key elements of the relative success of New York's public housing, is now given greater attention. 

From a planning perspective, though, is it possible to argue that this new design approach is always an improvement over the public housing of the 1950s?  Even some of the most sensitively-designed developments replacing notorious projects, such as the redevelopment of the Robert Taylor Homes in Chicago, show a similar emphasis on wide streets, low building footprints, large parking areas and residual "green space."  Perhaps the design philosophy underlying these redevelopments has not changed quite as much as one might think.

32 comments:

  1. Thank you for defending garden-style public housing, which has always been lumped in with the high-rise style but tends to be much better. Both of course have their good and bad examples and aspects - I've actually always thought that Pruitt-Igoe was a pretty good design actually, and seems more likely to have fallen due to management issues rather than design (as The Pruitt-Igoe Myth suggests).

    It's disconcerting that public housing with suburban amounts of parking is still being built in the post-Shoup era, although I'd be surprised if there was more parking per unit than in the condos you reference - it's possible that the only difference was that the condo developer could afford structured parking.

    Not sure about Nashville, but Chicago and Philadelphia are some of the most infamously terrible Housing Authorities. For a better example check out Seattle HA's stuff - NewHolly is a pretty good Hope VI project and the plan (and process) for Yesler Terrace should be a new national model.

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  2. I have always thought that perhaps one reason public housing deteriorated so quickly was due to lack of attention paid to maintenance. The old system of having a super or concierge who pays reduced rent might be a good idea -- so many people are out of work now. It ought to be possible to find people who would be responsible for cleaning, maintenance, and repair --such things cannot be left completely to chance and they often seem to be. I realize that many people who live in these houses have multiple social issues, but still -- couldn't we look to other countries and see how they handle these problems. - M.Allen

    In any case there are many projects even in the USA in which poor people live that do ok..

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  3. Interesting... in many ways Toronto is doing the opposite with it's biggest housing project, Regent Park. It's quite close to downtown and initially consisted of high rises, low rise apartments and some rowhouses surrounded by greenspace and parking. The community that will take it's place is supposed to be mixed income with almost three times the original amount of units and the same amount of subsidized units. It would be mostly midrise with some highrises and townhomes.

    I don't have any numbers of the land uses before and after, but it looks like there will be more parks and less greenspace. It will include a nice community centre and community garden. There were plans to redevelop 2 other projects that are further from downtown in a similar way (Lawrence Heights and Alexandra Park), but that might not happen with the new mayor.

    It's surprising to me that they would decrease the number of units in Nashville. How will they make up for the lost units? Do other housing project redevelopments involve reducing the number of units?

    Nicolas

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  4. Obsolescence is another issue facing a lot of this Modernist public housing. Most of it was built in an ethos of get the most people into the least amount of space available, and so, despite the large greenswards around these complexes, the actual quarters themselves were barely socially acceptable even by 1950s standards and embarrassingly cramped today. To top it off, these projects were not infrequently designed on shoestring (design) budgets, resulting in the architecturally inferior barracks many of these projects have turned out to be.

    ...That's, at least, Hope VI's rationale. The reality is, however, that Hope VI-built and -rebuilt housing, while it has the positive aspect of having the new units stand out less (except for, à la Sheridan Street, when the community expressly desires Modernism), has the negative effects of excessive autocentrism--particularly in parking pads--"features" which New Urbanism was supposed to eliminate. Projects like the MLK Homes, while they don't look out of place on their fronts, are still excessively wasteful of space--as can be seen on their sides and from the air (note: image is slightly dated).

    The HOPE VI record on spurring neighborhood development is also mixed. It seems more like the neighborhoods improving around HOPE VI projects (like Hawthorne around MLK) are improving regardless of the presence of public housing--or perhaps, as is the case over in lower Queen Village/Southwark (Southwark Homes) in spite of it.

    On one thing there is no denying, however: when it looks properly urban, public housing certainly does fit in in a certain substantive way; when it does not, it will not.

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  5. @Alex: Yesler Terrace looks excellent -- far superior to most Hope VI projects I have seen. Unapologetic urbanism like that is rare with these sorts of developments, it seems.

    @Anonymous 11:35: That is definitely true, especially in the case of high-rises, but somewhat less so for the low rise, garden apartment projects. Just as important, I think, was a perception that even if the projects had not declined much in quality in absolute terms, they had fallen far relative to current housing standards (particularly since they'd never really been renovated top-to-bottom).

    @Anonymous 12:06: It sounds like Toronto is moving in a good direction. As for Nashville, I'm afraid a substantial loss of units is quite characteristic of these housing redevelopments, and of the Hope VI program as a whole. The units are simply not made up elsewhere, and it's not known, for the most part, where the former residents have gone (most did not return, not only because there were fewer units, but because rents had risen for many). It's even more disappointing since this is a truly urban location, just a stone's throw from the downtown.

    @Steve: Good point -- see my comment to anonymous 11:35 above about housing quality. I've been inside one of these Nashville projects (not this very one, but a similar one from the 1960s), and while the accommodations were definitely spartan, it fit the "decent, safe and sanitary" bill. I've read that the planners of the late 1940s and 1950s believed this housing would be used for temporary stays, thus the college dormitory feel. You could argue that it (deliberately?) incentivizes short stays, as housing that is "too nice" may encourage people to linger beyond the period of need.

    Still, there could have been creative adaptations here if the desire was to improve housing quality, rather than reliving the wholesale destruction of the urban renewal era. If the units are cramped, the cinder block and brick buildings were near indestructible. Partitions can be knocked down, units enlarged, windows and appliances replaced, while that $20 million could have created new rows of buildings lining the streets and linking the isolated apartments. But the concepts of infill and adaptive reuse do not seem to have caught on among Hope VI projects. The eradication of the old complex, streets and all, was no less total than in Boston's North End or in the Lower East Side.

    Thanks for the Philadelphia links -- I notice that a grassy front setback has been added to several of those new buildings as well, indicating a persistent suburban design reflex, I guess.

    As for aiding revitalization, I'm not aware of any evidence for that in Nashville, at least, but the Hope VI projects have not been around for long.

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  6. Charlie--I agree, by and large, with what you're saying. I think the most worrying thing about HOPE VI is its persistent suburbanism, even in areas where suburbanism is uncalled-for. It is dismaying to note that there is no design standard (apart from curb appeal) in play--vinyl is used everywhere they can get away with--which the particularly low-rise low-rise replacement projects look inferior to their predecessors, and the available "open space" (space not covered by a structure) is usually relegated to parking pads, even though many of these projects exist close to the dense urban center.

    An early HOPE VI project in Philadelphia was the replacement of the Richard Allen Homes, which had decayed due to poor property management. Two blocks of the historical complex survive; the rest was turned into an out-of-place suburb stumbled on to by drunken Temple students trying to get home from a night on the town; those in the know dub it the "Allen hole". It's HOPE VI at its worst, and especially disappointing since it reveals that had Richard Allen had proper building management (a) it may never have had shit hit the fan--Richard Allen was Philly's answer to Pruitt-Igoe and Cabrini Green--and (b) a top-to-bottom renovation would probably have worked out just as well for the complex as the raze-and-rebuild that actually happened.

    There is one improvement HOPE VI has had in some Philly public housing, though: it does usually re-extend the street grid and eliminate depressing superblocks.

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  7. Any public housing is doomed. People don't take care of things that don't belong to them. Nobody owns public housing so nobody has any incentive to maintain it. Even the worst private-sector slumlord would at least wish to keep her building intact -- and any private owner can respond several orders of magnitude more quickly to changes in the local market.

    Public housing should be replaced with a system of rent vouchers, and existing projects sold or demolished.

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  8. The suburbanization of historically urban, dense neighborhoods is indeed a problem - especially so when that mindset 'bleeds' beyond the land of the former public housing site, and creates a disjointed built streetscape on surrounding infill sites. In Philadelphia, it is not so much the HOPE VI program that is to blame, as it is the City itself. Under John Street's mayorship, they adopted a citywide policy known as NTI (Neighborhood Transformation Initiative), that specifically encourages de-densification of neighborhoods, and applying spread-out, suburban-like development standards to the whole city. Along with an aggressive program by the city to tear-down abandoned rowhouses, there are now great swaths of formerly vibrant rowhouse communities that have been turned into little more than Levittown within the city limits. True, the CNU-driven direction for HOPE VI played right into this at Richard Allen, and elsewhere, but it was not imposed by HOPE VI - it was a reflection of misguided thinking by a city that has no real urban solutions to the problems of overall job-loss and population-loss.

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  9. 1950s: poor don't have cars because they commuted to jobs by walking or bus. 2010s: poor have cars because they need to drive to jobs.

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  10. Robert SteutevilleOctober 19, 2011 at 8:33 AM

    First of all, you picked a pretty crappy HOPE VI project to write about. Good things about this plan: it introduces a more connected street network and mix of housing types. Bad things: the streets are too wide, the setbacks too big, there are problems with frontages and building disposition, the public spaces poorly formed. Why didn't you pick a HOPE VI that met, or came close to, the actual design standards that CNU set up for the program? Projects as City West in Cincinnati, New Columbia in Portland, OR, Broadway Overlook in Baltimore, Flag House Courts in Baltimore, High Point in Seattle, Martin Luther King Plaza in Philadelphia, New Holly in Seattle, North Beach Place in San Francisco, or a couple of dozen others?

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  11. @Anonymous 6:56: I wouldn't say today's poor need to drive to most jobs. The project was rebuilt in the same location, which is a 20-minute walk from Nashville's downtown, and along an arterial street with frequent bus service. I lived in Nashville for three years about twice the distance from downtown, while owning a car, and never once drove to work during the couple years I worked along 2nd Avenue. I would say it was actually more convenient to bike. There are hundreds of other job options along the arterial, as well, all easily accessible by bus.

    @Robert: Thanks for reading and for the comment. You're definitely right that this particular project is not one of the better Hope VI efforts out there. It is, however, typical of many of the projects in the Southeast – all of Nashville's Hope VI projects have this appearance, and much of what Atlanta rebuilt near its core in the mid-90s has an even more parking-focused design. Stephen Smith and Steve Stofka have shown numerous examples from Philadelphia, which seem to be more the rule than the exception there.

    I acknowledged in the post that this is only "vaguely" New Urbanist, by which I meant that the architecture makes gestures to traditionalism, yet the planning remains stubbornly suburban in many instances (no mixed uses, wide streets, large setbacks, ample surface parking). My intent was not to criticize the New Urbanism's influence here but to observe how some city planners have continued to cling to these pro-decongestion, density-is-harmful tropes. This viewpoint is incompatible with CNU's design principles, and with urbanism itself. Under these circumstances, picking and choosing CNU ideas to add to a low-density project may not make very much sense.

    For instance, adding a street grid, under the CNU principles for Hope VI, is understood to be a complement to a "compact, pedestrian-friendly and mixed use" neighborhood. If the neighborhood is not compact, and does not contain mixed uses, however, it is difficult to see how multiplying wide paved streets is beneficial. The 1951 project actually had more publicly-accessible routes N-S and E-W – only, most of them were pedestrian paths, which made sense in the context of the goals of the 1951 planners (segregation of uses, quiet environment suitable for children, keep maintenance low). One could even argue the 1951 project actually did a better job of providing an "interconnected network of streets and public open space," (CNU's words) so long as one defines "street" as a way open to the public, not just an automobile thoroughfare.

    Thanks for the suggestions of other projects to look at – I know there have been some genuinely urban ones in Boston as well much better than the one I focused on here.

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  12. City West here in Cincinnati is still a perfect example of de-densification and very cheap construction.

    The original Laurel Homes and Lincoln Courts projects that replaced much of the West End in the 1930s-1950s was much less dense than the old neighborhood. The buildings were the typical mid-rise plain brick and concrete block boxes that have no architectural detail, but were at least sturdy.

    The new City West development is even less dense than Laurel Homes and Lincoln Court. The design is somewhat OK, but the buildings are very cheap wood framed attached single-family houses for the most part with brick veneer facades and vinyl siding elsewhere. While they put back some of the old street grid, the roads are still a bit wide, though not as bad as they could be, and the setbacks are ok. Still, in order to accommodate cars, the entirety of the rear yards are taken up by secondary roads (nearly as big as the main streets) and large parking pads. http://g.co/maps/vw9h9

    The buildings along Linn Street are better, as they're actual multi-family mixed-use buildings of 4-5 stories. Their relationship to the sidewalk is not as good as it could be though, partly because Linn Street is one of those excessively wide 7-laners from the 1960s and 70s like Liberty Street, MLK, and Dana Avenue in Hyde Park. It also is a perfect example of the problems with redeveloping superblocks. Even if you do everything possible to reestablish the grid, the redevelopment project is still bounded by roads and arterials (it's still basically a "pod"), so you end up with completely disparate developments on either side of the main roads. Linn Street is a perfect example, with the new, relatively consistent redevelopment on the east side and a multitude of older housing projects and occasional historic buildings on the west side. Combined with the excessive width of the street, it becomes not a commercial/neighborhood corridor knitting the neighborhood together, but a barrier that divides the neighborhood.

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  13. @Robert: I sort of address Philadelphia's MLK project at the end of my original post. (Fun fact: My mother, when she worked at PHA, was in charge of imploding the old MLK towers. I remember when I was a kid going and seeing it happen. She got to press the button!) Behind the façade (literally!), it's pretty shitty and car-oriented.

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  14. The original project is still not very good as presented in the photo. Too much emphasis on open space, setbacks, etc. Why can't it look like some of the 6-story New York buildings that look identical to everything else in the neighborhood?

    The worst thing about public housing in so many countries is that governments use it as an opportunity to showcase their urban planning principles, which in the time period in question were some variety of modernism. Public housing shouldn't be that way. It should look indistinguishable from private housing, or else it's just going to create social stigma against both the urban form it uses and the neighborhoods it's in.

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  15. The planner's swipe at density will doubtless draw sneers from urbanists who love density. I myself started to sneer at it before considering this:

    Density in public housing may be bad for the exact same reason that it's otherwise good: it fosters lots of interaction among people.

    In functioning cities filled with functioning people who can do things like hold jobs and pay rent/mortgage, this is a great thing that enriches life and speeds the spread of new ideas that improve upon older ideas. In non-functioning places filled with people who tend to have lesser self control and more impulses toward self-defeating and even dangerous behavior, interaction with others of similar bent is often bad and, thus, something to be discouraged.

    Increasing the distance between people will prevent conflict and the spread of bad ideas, like joining a vicious gang.

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  16. I don't know if the above sentiment has been proven true, proven false or even studied at all.

    It just seems like a plausible idea to me and one that explains why the folks who build public housing always seem so bent on ignoring every factor one consistently sees in good urban areas.

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  17. One of the primary goals of Hope VI's New Urbanism is to address the issue of Defensible Space, and modernist housing's complete lack thereof. Streets are important to defensible space as the clearly define "public realm," and the first line of defense. "Eyes on the Street" is a goal of New Urbanism, often expressed by porches which encourage resident to police their own streets. And back yards (if they exist) sholud be inaccesible to the public, except via control points (locked gates, etc). The lack of these components in most previous projects that plop buildings into gardened "no man's land" is probably their central failing.

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  18. Why on earth are you presenting the views of Mumford and Bauer as somehow opposed? Not only were they colleagues in the same movement, but they were also lovers. Obviously they didn't agree on everything, but I had to do a double-take when I read what you wrote.

    Furthermore, Bauer herself came to question her ca. 1940 beliefs later in her career. It turned out that garden city-style development, in the absence of strong management, does tend towards pathology. Why? David Morris gets at some of the reasons.

    The most successful example of garden city development in America, Chatham Village* in Pittsburgh, was predicated on levels of management involvement that read today as Big Brotheresque. The ownership model has changed, but it remains a closely managed community, and that has been a key to its success.

    Equally important was - and is - the quality of design and materials. There were numerous Chatham Village-inspired public housing projects around Pittsburgh (the planner of C.V. was even involved in one that was war housing), and all of them scrimped on materials, eliminated elements that were considered critical to the design of C.V., and generally resembled it in nothing more than aerial view (if that).

    The point is that calling something a garden city doesn't make it one. The failings you point out in the Hope VI project are precisely the sorts of design-driven (as opposed to concept-driven) failings that made low rise public housing problematic virtually everywhere it was built. If every public housing project were as thoughtfully and carefully designed as Bauer would have wished, then many, if not most, would likely have proven successful. But what actually was built were barracks that failed on numerous urbanistic criteria (there's more to city-making than density) while they also failed on humanistic ones (e.g., firmness, commodity, and delight - they were ugly, cheaply-made, and poorly laid out within).

    Last thing: it's worth noting that garden-style housing didn't only fail to achieve its goals in public housing settings. Sunnyside, Queens began as a community of houses facing the existing urban street grid with common green space to the rear, with small garden plots for each house and public walkways through the middle of the block. As soon as the original developer/owner sold off the property to residents, the common green space was subdivided and fenced in. You can blame the American dream, you can blame human nature, you can blame whatever you like, but the point is that commonly shared green space was very hard to sustain in 20th century America, and there's no real sign of that changing.

    * two of Bauer's other colleagues at the Regional Planning Association were primarily responsible for the design

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  19. @Robert Steuteville: In addition to my comment about defensible space in housing projects, I'd like to agree. Not all Hopve VI projects are created equal. The one reviewed here really is poor, for all the reasons Robert lists, and not the least of which is it's near total lack of public/private realm distinction (and really crappy architecture).

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  20. My, that's one of the worst looking HOPE VI developments I've seen. Some of the blame can be placed on modern codes, like excessive pavement and setbacks.

    Still more blame can be apportioned to the numerous types of financing that HOPE VI projects require, many of which come with extensive strings attached. HOPE VI itself makes it difficult to build anything with interior corridors, since those spaces aren't "owned" (see David Morris' comment about defensible space). Similarly, it's well nigh impossible to do vertical mixed use in HOPE VI, federal accessibility requirements mean that you can't do raised front porches a la Andrew Jackson Courts, and the high per-unit cost of many of these projects makes it difficult to build many units.

    The same "enclosure" of Garden Cities that JRoth mentioned in Sunnyside occurred at Radburn and at parts of Greenbelt, Maryland -- at least to those parts that weren't brought into the "Big Brotheresque" residents' cooperative that purchased most of Greenbelt. It's worth pointing out that Bauer's colleague/husband William Wurster designed Valencia Gardens in San Francisco, which was replaced by a HOPE VI redevelopment (probably a contributing factor in the Mission's gentrification).

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  21. Thanks everyone for the comments.

    @Anonymous 10:51: That's possibly true, but the philosophy behind these developments seems to be to counter undesirable concentrations of poverty by introducing a mix of incomes, not by further dispersing the population. If the inhabitants of the market rate units are supposed to serve as positive influences on the poorer tenants, that presumes a certain degree of proximity as well.

    @David Morris: It's true that the older project did have a lot of undefined outdoor space that was neither private nor clearly public way (i.e., "green space"), but I'm hesitant to attribute crime and other issues to that design decision. There were many traditional neighborhoods in cities like New York, Philadelphia and Baltimore which suffered from similar problems during the same period in spite of their form. Economically, this design was wasteful, but I'm less convinced it was a cause of social problems (though open to being persuaded).

    @JRoth: If I appeared to oppose the views of Mumford and Bauer, it was due to poor writing, not intent. I'm viewing the new project as an outgrowth of Bauer's original design philosophy, which explains why I think Mumford would approve of it as well. In spite of all the frills, the core idea remains decongestion and the placement of homes in a park-like setting. The earlier project was only dense by comparison – a 21 percent ground coverage of two story buildings is not an intensive use of land by most standards.

    @Westnorth: Thanks for the points about financing – very interesting. I do tend to think that good management will trump design issues (at least, that was my takeaway from "Public Housing that Worked," about New York's public housing system.

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  22. A question arising from your response to my comment:

    How successful are these developments in getting a real mix of incomes? Are we talking about adding some folks who work as assistant managers at big box stores to people who get welfare or are we talking about doctors and investment bankers?

    If it's the latter, how do they attract really functional people? I could see it in really expensive, really desirable places like NYC or SF where pretty successful people can still struggle to buy decent housing and will gladly live next to a crack house for a real bargain. But in Nashville??? What does housing in a good suburb cost there? $100 a square foot? $120? At prices like those, you really don't have to earn all that much to live quite well, so what possible incentive would truly functional people have to live among the welfare recipients?

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  23. @Anonymous 10:51: That is an excellent question. Generally these projects contain a mix of public housing, "affordable" housing (generally defined as housing that rents at no more than 1/3 of the income of a person making 60% the city median), and market rate. As your comment suggests, though, realistically what will be the going rate for housing in these surroundings? I do not know what it is for this project, or how it compares to the affordable rent, but I doubt very much that one would see white collar professionals living there.

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  24. "No man's land" space = gathering places for drug dealers and muggers. You can tell intruders to "get out of my yard" and cops can patrol streets, but a housing project playground is the ideal place for a little dealing and lurking.

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  25. " a housing project playground is the ideal place for a little dealing and lurking"
    That may be true, but police can patrol playgrounds, plazas and parks, too, if they get out of their cars. And as Charlie mentioned, crime has been a problem in different areas in old 19th century urban areas with a continuous street wall of townhouses or apartments (eg the Bronx, Harlem, the Tenderloin in San Francisco).
    I think it is a mistake to attribute crime to street-level urban form.
    Low-density, auto-oriented cities may contribute to marignializing and segregating minorities and the poor, which may lead to increased crime or social problems due to increased inequality, but there are examples of weathy, low-crime areas built with modernist principles.

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  26. @Robert Gardner:
    Defensible space is probably the single most important concept embraced by New Urbanism.

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Defensible_space_(environmental_design)

    As defined in Newman’s book Design Guidelines for Creating Defensible Space, defensible space is defined as "a term used to describe a residential environment whose physical characteristics—building layout and site plan—function to allow inhabitants themselves to become key agents in ensuring their security." He goes on to explain that a housing development is only defensible if residents intend to adopt this role, which is defined by good design. “Defensible space therefore is a sociophysical phenomenon,” says Newman. Both society and physical elements are both parts of a successful defensible space.

    The theory argues that an area is safer when people feel a sense of ownership and responsibility for that piece of a community. Newman asserts that "the criminal is isolated because his turf is removed" when each space in an area is owned and cared for by a responsible party. If an intruder can sense a watchful community, he feels less secure committing his crime. The idea is that crime and delinquency can be controlled and mitigated through environmental design.

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