The map below shows the number of families that cities reported displacing through federally-funded urban renewal programs between 1955 and 1966. The urban renewal projects that resulted in displacements were typically aimed at “slum clearance”: using eminent domain to acquire private homes that were usually deemed sub-standard, razing those houses, and redeveloping the land for new, sometimes public housing, more often private, or for other purposes like the development of department stores or office buildings.
A third of a million families is a stunning number, but it only represents a part of the toll that the “culture of clearance” took in mid-century cities. It does not include numbers between 1967 and 1974 when those were not collected and published by the federal government. It does not include the massive number of single adults displaced—often vulnerable populations like gay men – who as single adults were not eligible for relocation assistance. It does not include displacements through the state – rather than federally-funded projects. And it does not include displacements resulting from federally-funded interstate or public housing construction—programs related to but distinct from the urban renewal programs.
Still, these visualizations do convey much about the broad reach and tremendous impact of urban renewal programs that in a dozen years subsidized the displacements of people in over six hundred cities and towns, not just metropolises like New York, Chicago, and Philadelphia, but mid-sized cities like Norfolk, Little Rock, and New Haven, as well as small cities like Jasper, Alabama; Lewisboro, New York; and Coos Bay, Oregon. They also show how displacements had a much bigger effect on communities of color. While some projects did help improve the quality of housing for many families, for others it destroyed tight-knit communities and did not provide the dislocated adequate financial or logistical assistance to smoothly relocate to other already crowded segregated neighborhoods.