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“ ‘To Hell With Urban Renewal:’ Resolving the Cultural Legacy of a Federal Housing Program”

Authors: Sarah Hosman*, Drexel University
Topics: Urban Geography, Cultural Geography
Keywords: Urban Geography, Urban Renewal, Student Neighborhoods, Gentrification, Neighborhoods, Neighborhood Identity, Residential Development
Session Type: Paper
Presentation File: No File Uploaded

“The development of the North Harvard Street Housing project was one of the most tragic urban renewal stories of the sixties. ” As one neighborhood report indicates, urban renewal processes were met with intense opposition from local residents in Allston, Boston’s student neighborhood. Today, lifelong residents describe the public fight Allstonians engaged in with city officials that has shaped the current neighborhood landscape. Urban renewal efforts aimed to improve urban “blight,” and Allston residents describe the public ways that they resisted urban renewal, including hanging a large sign that read “To Hell With Urban Renewal” and neighborhood-wide resistance to evictions. This paper argues that urban renewal processes destroyed community networks and facilitated university expansion and gentrification. Based on 18 months of ethnographic research and interviews with a variety of neighborhood actors, I argue that urban renewal has had longstanding physical and social effects on Allston, and has shaped the cultural narrative(s) local residents use to discuss the neighborhood, including past and future changes. Residents criticize local universities’ plans to shape neighborhood outcomes (seen as an extension of earlier urban renewal practices), and negotiate residential changes. Neighborhood residents reference the role of the Boston Planning and Development Agency, the agency in charge of urban renewal programs, and their perceived overreach during urban renewal initiatives. Memories of urban renewal in Allston serve as cultural reminders of the role of the federal housing program that has shaped many cities and neighborhoods, including how local residents narrate and navigate their sense of place.

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