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Making a Better World: Public Housing, the Red Scare, and the Direction of Modern Los Angeles

Don Parson
Foreword by Kevin Starr
Copyright Date: 2005
Edition: NED - New edition
Pages: 312
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  • Book Info
    Making a Better World
    Book Description:

    With sharp historical perspective, Making a Better World traces the rise and fall of a public housing ethic in Los Angeles and its impact on the city's built environment. Don Parson's examination not only gives us the recent history of a city but also opens up a new debate on a current national crisis in providing shelter for low-income Americans.

    eISBN: 978-0-8166-9605-5
    Subjects: Political Science

Table of Contents

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  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-viii)
  3. Foreword
    (pp. ix-xiv)
    Kevin Starr

    For reasons that lie deep within the U.S. psyche, public housing has never come easily to these United States; nor, for that matter, has the political philosophy behind public housing, social democracy, been an enduring U.S. characteristic. Social democracy and public housing, in point of fact, have been infinitely more successful in Europe, the United Kingdom, and the British Commonwealth than they have ever been in the United States, and this disparity dramatically underscores the revolutionary nature of the New Deal and the social democratic programs, including public housing, that had their origins in the late 1930s and that managed...

  4. Preface
    (pp. xv-xvi)
  5. Acknowledgments
    (pp. xvii-xviii)
  6. Abbreviations
    (pp. xix-xx)
  7. Introduction: Of Politics, Public Housing Projects, and the Modern City
    (pp. 1-12)

    On June 23, 1947, Frank Wilkinson, public relations officer of the Housing Authority of the City of Los Angeles, spoke to the Women’s Acorn Club in Pasadena. The topic was the staggering postwar housing shortage and the role public housing could play in alleviating the crisis. When questioned about residential districts that were occupied only by African Americans and when asked whether public housing would replicate this spatial polarity, Wilkinson replied, according to theCalifornia Eagle,that “he did not believe that segregated housing projects contributed towards the making of a better world. He thought,” the paper continued, “that he...

  8. Chapter 1 The New Day of Decent Housing: Building a Public Housing Program
    (pp. 13-44)

    The massive unemployment of the Great Depression directly affected the housing conditions of the many people across a broad spectrum of class and race who were unable to pay rent or to maintain their accommodations. Many saw a federal public housing program as an experiment to deal with the social unrest engendered by the housing crisis. The left-liberal popular front sought to harness the political energy of the Roosevelt coalition to the goal of better housing via the 1937 Housing Act, while progressives in Los Angeles sought to bring the federal program to a level where it could be realized...

  9. Chapter 2 Homes for Heroes: Public Housing during World War II
    (pp. 45-74)

    During World War II, federal financial assistance to Los Angeles and other cities was increased from Depression levels of spending. Federal funding for housing stimulated planning as a means to address the economic, social, and physical problems of the wartime municipality as well as to direct postwar urban development. With the transformation of President Roosevelt from “Dr. New Deal” to “Dr. Win the War,” the politics of the public housing program incorporated a single objective yet contradictory goals. It was recognized across the political spectrum that the public housing program was vital to the productivity of defense workers and the...

  10. Chapter 3 David and Goliath: The Struggle to Expand the Public Housing Program
    (pp. 75-102)

    Desiring to maintain wartime unity and not wanting to retard the war effort, the left-liberal popular front had retreated from forcefully advocating that the federal government construct permanent public war housing. Instead, it acquiesced to the interests of private builders within the NHA. In 1944, Helen Fuller wrote in theNew Republicof the wartime consolidation and legislative power of the real estate lobby, suggesting the need to develop a broadly based, popular mobilization for public housing:

    The vast support for public housing which has grown up in the New Deal years still remains unorganized. The few groups into which...

  11. Chapter 4 The “Headline-Happy Public Housing War”: Public Housing and the Red Scare
    (pp. 103-136)

    With the opening of the 1950s, the public housing program seemed on its way to becoming an entrenched and established welfarestate institution in Los Angeles. In November 1950, the City Council approved the sites of the proposed 10,000 public housing units, and by early 1951, the CHA was rapidly moving ahead on the fulfillment of the contract by hiring architects and arranging site clearance. By the end of 1951, however, an insurgent City Council was threatening to cancel the contract with the federal government. In 1952 and 1953, the CHA underwent a right-wing attack, culminating in what the September 6,...

  12. Chapter 5 “Old Town, Lost Town, Shabby Town, Crook Town”: Bunker Hill and the Modern Cityscape
    (pp. 137-162)

    With the electoral defeat of public housing and the demise of the Left’s vision of a better world, a fundamental shift occurred in the direction of modern Los Angeles as corporate modernism eclipsed community modernism. Although urban redevelopment and public housing had been historically intertwined, the two became separated in the postwar period. In the absence of public housing following the city’s cancellation of the 1949 federal contract, urban redevelopment (renamed urban renewal in 1954) molded the spatial contours of modern Los Angeles. The transformation of Bunker Hill (see Map 5) from a blighted district to the city’s modern acropolis...

  13. Chapter 6 This Modern Marvel: Chavez Ravine and the Politics of Modernism
    (pp. 163-186)

    Following the 1953 mayoral victory of Norris Poulson, the city acquired the land on which the Elysian Park Heights public housing project in Chavez Ravine was to be built. By the end of the decade, it was well on its way to becoming Dodger Stadium. The transformation of land use in Chavez Ravine, from housing to prestige sports facility, parallels the transformation of the vision of the community modernism of the Left to the vision of corporate modernism in Los Angeles. Concurrently, there was a metamorphosis in popular political form. With the demise of the Left’s influence on the formal...

  14. Conclusion: “Thus the Sixties Reap the Folly of the Fifties”
    (pp. 187-200)

    With the Red Scare of the 1950s, the social democratic reforms espoused by the Left came to a close. The defeat of public housing in Los Angeles was the culmination of a nationwide assault on that program. With the fragmentation of the Left, the making of a better world by means of the public housing projects—the socially planned communities of a modern city—seemed to be a failed political possibility. Corporate modernism, shaped by urban renewal, now defined modern Los Angeles. While social democratic reform, as a political form, was comatose, the social motivation to make a better world...

  15. Chronology of Public Housing Events in Los Angeles
    (pp. 201-202)
  16. Appendix A: The File on Frank Wilkinson
    (pp. 203-208)
  17. Appendix B: Sources
    (pp. 209-212)
  18. Notes
    (pp. 213-266)
  19. Index
    (pp. 267-290)
  20. Back Matter
    (pp. 291-291)