THE AFTERMATH OF WASHINGTON PARK URBAN RENEWAL
Washington Park Urban Renewal Program was loosing steam and public enthusiasm by 1971. By that time every major public actor had left the stage to be replaced in city hall by those who had no involvement with or much understanding of Urban Renewal and at the federal level with an administration without sympathy for cities or anything done during the previous democratic administrations. The public was also loosing its patience with cities, particularly after the riots in Grove Hall and elsewhere in urban black America in the wake of the April, 1968 assassination of Dr Martin Luther King Jr.
John Collins declined to seek reelection in 1967§ in part because of the riots, the cause of which he could not fully comprehend since he felt he had given much to help the
black community through the Washington Park Urban Renewal program. It left him permanently bitter and he a spent years as a conservative commentator on talk television. BRA Director Edward Logue made an unsuccessful run for mayor and after an embarrassing loss in the September,1967 primary joined the New York State Urban Redevelopment Corporation in 1968.§§ President Richard M. Nixon replaced Robert C. Weaver with George Romney, the former governor of Michigan, as the Secretary of HUD, who made a noble effort in an ignoble presidency ( The Section 8 rental voucher program is his most notable achievement).
As can be seen by the slow construction pace of St Josephs Cooperative Homes, funding was drying up for Washington Park; it took 3 years to build 137 homes.
In May of 1970, Otto Snowden accompanied State Representative Franklin Holgate as emissaries of Mayor Kevin H. White to meet with HUD officials to request increased funding of the 10 year old program. They requested $10 million to finish the work. ( Bay State Banner, June 4, 1970. page 2).
More than anything else Washington Park Urban Renewal overwhelmed the people of Roxbury. Langley Keyes, one of the most astute observers of Boston urban renewal wrote in 1970 that in 7 years of renewal, the homeowners who originally supported then plan felt crushed by the chaos of whole blocks being razed and the familiarities of life- long associations obliterated. They moved elsewhere.§§§ This was made easier by the relaxation of unwritten housing laws in towns like Randolph, Stoughton and Newton who welcomed middle class blacks more freely after 1970.
The time lapse between approval and completion of projects took longer and longer as the decade progressed and this also increased the frustrations of those who remained. §
Keyes identified two major failures of Washington Park: the inability of the BRA to produce enough low income housing. Low income housing simply was not part of the vision of Freedom House and its allies. The black proletariat was not wanted. : if the BRA, wrote Keyes, “ had built a series of well designed, well crafted low rise housing it would have done more to benefit the low income black family than any plan devised by the original Washington Park steering committee.”§§
Secondly, Keyes notes that public agencies that the BRA depended upon failed to move at all, chief among them the School Department.§§§ Three schools were planned and land cleared for by the BRA but for a variety of reasons the School Department could not and would not build new schools because of the defacto segregation of the school system under which Boston was trapped by a bigoted majority on the school committee. This would explode – and along with it any hope of completing Washington Park - in June of 1974 when Boston was ordered by a federal judge to desegregate its schools through cross town bussing.
§ On July 10, 1967, MIT President Howard W. Johnson appointed Collins as Visiting Professor of Urban Affairs at the joint center of Urban Studies.. John Collins died on Nov. 23, 1995 at the age of 3476. §§ The winner of that election, Kevin H White, appointed Robert Kenney, age 35, as the Director of the BRA in January, 1971. Kenney would wrap up the Washington Park work after the Nixon administration froze all renewal and housing programs in 1973..
Edward Logue died on January 27, 2000 at the age of 78. §§§ The Snowdens only child lived in the suburbs for years § Otto Snowden told Boston Globe reporter Viola Osgood late in 1976 that “ it’s just a matter of time until all the money spent here will have gone down the drain… it will fail because it was never finished … and we never received the necessary city and social services” that were promised. ( Boston Globe Dec. 11, 1976. “ 15 years and $70. 4 million dollars later, the renewal of Washington Park is considered a failure by many of those involved.”
In 1965 seven large tracts of land were cleared and remained vacant for the next 20 years. One of the largest at M L King Blvd. and Elmore St remained a ragged trash filled lot for nearly 30 years. It is today ( June 2005) almost built up with middle income homeownership townhouses, a far cry form the intents of urban renewal, but well within the vision of the black middle class homeowner today. One of the houses razed was 10 Elmore St.,the boyhood home of John Collins. §§ Langley Keyes, Boston Rehabilitation Program: An Independent Analysis, Cambridge, Joint Center for Urban Studies at MIT and Harvard University, 1970.
For a brief analysis of the class antagonism between the black elite and their working class neighbors – which remains alive and well- see the Sunday New York Times, May 29, 2005, “ A Short History of Class Antagonisms in the Black Community.” An essay by Brent Staples. “Black elites,” he wrote, “pressed into close contact with the poor were more class obsessed and more condescending than their white counterparts.” §§§ An argument can be made for the Mayors Office too. It was never warm towards the Collins-Logue urban renewal plans for Washington Park and Mayor White wanted to be Governor in 1970 and then the vice presidential candidate in 1972. Only in 1973 did Kevin White put all of his energies into governing Boston.