Langely Carleton Keyes, Jr.

  • The Rehabilitation Planning Game

    A Study in the Diversity of Neighborhood

    Langely Carleton Keyes, Jr.

    When urban renewal got under way in the early 1950's, it meant to the man in the street (or the man down the street from a renewal project) the demolition of buildings and the dispersal of neighborhoods. Even when the approach and emphasis changed several years later to rehabilitation – the conserving of neighborhood character by restoring buildings and leaving the population intact – the planning authorities were still regarded with hostility and suspicion.

    It was to create an atmosphere of trust that the “rehabilitation planning game” came into play, whereby residents, instead of impotently fighting City Hall, are brought into negotiations with it, and both “teams” bargain their way through a proposed plan point by point, the object of the game being for each side to “win,” on its own terms. This is the subject of this perspective and sensitive study, which follows the progress of negotiation through three Boston projects, from inception to plan approval. The author describes the ground rules as follows: “The rehabilitation game introduces with whom the redevelopment authority must negotiate. A successful rehabilitation project requires the involvement from the local community, Moreover, the federal requirement that a public hearing be held by the [planning authority] to enable citizens to express their views on the merits of the proposed renewal plan dictates that there be people in the neighborhood sufficiently sold on the plan to stand up and support it at that hearing. The ritualistic and highly manipulated public hearings that were possible in the early days of urban redevelopment have become politically infeasible in the 1960's as both neighborhood citizens and public officials have become increasingly sophisticated about the implications of the urban renewal program.”

    The urban redevelopment program in the Boston of Mayor John Collins and Redevelopment Administrator Edward J. Logue (covering the years 1960-1967) attracted national attention, both for the record they created and for the controversies they stirred up. Keyes, who was given full access to background information by both the City Hall and the neighborhood teams, sets the program in perspective by examining its operation in three very different neighborhoods: the South End, Charlestown, and Washington Park.

    The South End is a rich human stew whose ingredients include Syrians, Chinese, Southern Negroes, Puerto Ricans, blue0collar workers, alcoholics, prostitutes, the isolated elderly, and professional middle-class “adventurers” into the urban frontier. United in initial suspicion of the planning authorities, their interests were divided in most other respects.

    In contrast, Charlestown is homogeneous, with a stable, largely Irish Catholic population that has deep roots in the Town's past. Highly Town-conscious and politicized, the community was split into hostile camps by the urban renewal issue.

    Washington Park underwent unsettling changes during the 1950's, shifting from a white to a black majority in population and incurring in the process a host of social and economic problems. At the outset of planning, a fully representative group of spokesmen could not be mustered, and little objection was voiced to the support of the plan offered by the local elite.

    After many false starts and tortuous, lengthy negotiations, plans for all three neighborhoods were approved by the residents at public hearings. Keyes concludes that negotiations with local interest groups produced planning solutions geared to the goals of those with the capacity to be represented in the planning game. The different socioeconomic characteristics of the three neighborhood teams with differing degrees of representativeness but also final plans that had significantly different impacts. The fact that successful planning game strategies could be devised to meet the differing requirements of all three situations argues for the general validity of the negotiating approach as a political mechanism but not necessarily one which ensures that all local interest groups will be dealt with in an equitable manner.

    In a final chapter, the author applies the lessons learned from his study of the urban rehabilitation planning process to the recently enacted Model Cities Program.

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