Saving America's Cities: Ed Logue and the Struggle to Renew Urban America in the Suburban Age

America’s cities are booming again. After decades of residents fleeing to suburbs, taking tax revenue and jobs with them, people have found urban living appealing again. And yet, in this new-found prosperity are the seeds of crisis. As more people move in, rents have climbed, burdening low-income renters. In 1960, one-fifth of renters spent more than 30% of their income on housing. Today, one-half do. in Los Angeles, nearly a third of renters paid 50% of their income in rent. Noone has stepped in to fix the problem. Affordable housing is blocked by community opposition, onerous regulations, and years of neglect. Government support has not been forthcoming either; despite more and more households qualifying for rental assistance, rent assistance has been reduced. What is to be done?

We can use past experiences at building housing to inform what we should do today. Dr. Lizabeth Cohen’s book, Saving America’s Cities: Ed Logue and the Struggle to Renew Urban America in the Suburban Age looks at how urban planner Ed Logue applied urban renewal, successfully and unsuccessfully, to New Haven, Boston, and New York State. Logue faced challenges different from what we face today, but we can see the similarities to our own problems. In Logue’s time, he was facing long-time residents and businesses moving to the suburbs, diminishing the tax base required to maintain infrastructure and provide services. Today, cities are prospering again, pushing out poorer residents to the suburbs and exurbs. But in our time and Logue’s, there is a shortage of affordable, decent housing, and city infrastructure is crumbling from decades of underinvestment.

Ed Logue represented a period in the 1950s and 1970s known as urban renewal, an effort by the federal government to redevelop cities facing problems of slums, poverty, and decaying infrastructure. By subsidizing the demolition of “blighted” areas, city and federal government hoped to attract private investment to build newer, better neighborhoods. However, often this private investment did not come. In 1971, a third of all projects started between 1950 and 1959 still contained unsold land. Demolition also displaced residents, forcing them to move, and when housing did become available, they could not afford anymore. And it was not only new housing being constructed - often residents were displaced by new highways going through their neighborhoods, where no new housing would be built at all. This book is not here to condemn urban renewal, but to provide a history of it so that we may learn from its successes and failures.

Logue was an ardent New Dealer, a believer in the power of the federal government to build a better, more just and equal society. He represented a new sort of expert that the New Deal established: an expert not defined by technical expertise, but by administrative expertise. Logue’s expertise was in his ability to negotiate with Washington for funds, understand the federal bureaucracy, and oversee initiatives on the ground. Technical experts in this style of government found themselves marginalized by these administrators and encouraged to stay in their lane. However, Ed Logue did not consider himself a stereotypical bureaucrat, but a rebel working within the system. A point of pride for him was that he eschewed civil service protections for him and his staff, enabling them to be fired by his superiors at any time.

Logue also feuded with other influential urbanists, such as Robert Moses, whom Logue thought was more committed to his highway projects than the people he was supposed to serve. Robert Moses’ aggressive style and conservatism was anathema to Logue’s liberal integrationist agenda. He also criticized Jane Jacob’s views, believing her stance that cities should develop free of planners as allowing the federal government to abdicate its responsibility to the needy. To him, Jacob’s stance that cities should fend for themselves was very convenient to suburbanites who wanted to hear “that neither their tax dollars nor their own time need be spent on the cities they leave behind them at the close of each work day.”

He also championed civil rights, making a significant effort to integrate the cities he worked in. But that is not to say he was without flaws. His belief in top-down expertise often clashed with the communities he intended to help. While Logue always espoused “planning with people” in his rhetoric, it was often just lip service - and many times in his career this tendency would undermine his goals.


Ed Logue was born in 1921 to a Philadelphia family and enjoyed a prosperous childhood until his father, a city tax assessor, died in 1934, sending his family into poverty. He attended Yale on a scholarship, where his working-class background set him apart from the Yale blue-bloods. Virtually the only person on the campus to support FDR against Wendell Willkie, he was also targeted by McCarthy-era anti-communist hunts in his early professional life.

Logue’s interest in urbanism stemmed from serving as a bombardier in WWII, which gave him a bird’s eye view of Florence, Siena, and Rome. From his position in the sky, he was able to read the physical layout of the city and understand how it was put together. After leaving the Army, he returned to Yale to study law, and then worked for the state department, doing village renewal in India.

New Haven

After returning to America, Logue briefly worked as a lawyer but found it boring. Instead, he got involved in Connecticut politics, working on the campaign of New Haven mayoral hopeful, Richard Lee. Dick had lost two previous elections for mayor, but won the third time in 1953, campaigning on the city’s creeping decline. After the campaign, Lee invited Logue to be his executive secretary, but he quickly found it to be more of a job of a deputy mayor.

The New Haven that Logue moved back to had declined substantially. Wealthier residents with cars were decamping to the suburbs, along with commercial establishments, depriving the city of tax revenue. While New Haven had Yale, in many ways the university was a white elephant for the city. Yale’s substantial real estate holdings were tax-exempt but still required city services to support them. Each time the university expanded, that took away another taxable parcel of land from the city. New Haven also had a manufacturing base with high-paid jobs, but that was showing the greatest fragility of all. Flexible trucking displacing rail and water transport, combined with New Haven’s outmoded physical plant, cramped sites and unionized labor force made New Haven less and less appealing to manufacturers. For over a century, immigrants had poured into New Haven to take these jobs. Post WWII, African Americans from the south arrived in New Haven as the latest wave of immigrants, only to find fewer opportunities and jobs in the city, while being prohibited from living in the suburbs where the jobs had moved to. With the decline in the fortunes of their renters, landlords invested less and less in their properties and neighborhoods deteriorated. Reversing this decline was the mandate of newly elected mayor Lee.

After Dick Lee was inaugurated, he and Logue wasted no time getting to work reconstructing New Haven. Lee was constrained by a town charter that included a weak mayor elected in 2-year terms, 33 aldermen for 152,000 people, and a variety of boards and commissions that were impossible to coordinate. Try as he might, Lee was never able to reform the city charter. However, through the Housing Acts of 1937, 1949, and 1954 and the Federal-Aid Highway Act of 1956, they would have the federal government in their corner. Lee would put Logue in charge of New Haven’s powerful New Haven development board and make Logue responsible for getting aid from the federal government, giving him a source of income to realize his plans without having to deal with New Haven’s calcified politics. Logue was particularly effective at raising money from Washington, getting $130 million in funds. New Haven easily ranked first in federal aid per capita, getting 3 times more funds per resident than the second-closest city, Newark.

Logue’s plan for New Haven started with redeveloping the city for the car. Logue and other New Haven urban planners negotiated with Connecticut transportation officials to ensure that I-95 and Route 91 were built at sites best suited to the city’s development. In addition, they built the Oak Street Connector, a short artery that connected downtown to I-95. New Haven’s narrow streets had been laid out for horses and had become incredibly congested with the introduction of the automobile. Logue called for wider, faster main streets and plentiful off-street parking. New luxury housing towers promised “town living in the modern manner”, which meant towers surrounded by parking on landscaped grounds. While this decision receives a lot of criticism today, to the planners of the 1950’s the car was obviously the centerpiece of the city of the future. Nor was Logue blind to the problems cars could create; unlike other modern planners, he ensured that neighborhood side streets dead-ended, discouraging drivers from using residential streets as a shortcut.

Another reason to favor cars was that suburbanites and even New Havenites themselves began to shun the city’s downtown stores in favor of modern suburban stores, and when asked why, stated it was because of car accessibility. While the Central Business District (CBD) was less than 1% of New Haven’s land, it generated a quarter of all tax revenue for the city. Faced with a catastrophic decline in retail sales, Logue and Lee developed the Chapel Square Mall project, betting on big business with plentiful parking in the Temple Street Garage as an alternative to the traditional small shops and offices that dotted the New Haven CBD. Lee and Logue successfully attracted Macy’s, but at a cost to the small businesses that had traditionally been the backbone of the New Haven CBD. The banks backing the Church Street Mall required 70% of tenants to have AAA credit ratings, which required at least a million dollars in assets in the 1950’s. While existing merchants were offered parking and a rent discount, most of them did not survive the transition to the new mall. The decision to bet on big business, however, would fail in the long term. Malley’s would close in 1983 and Macy’s in 1993, citing lower than expected profit at the locations. Chapel Square Mall would fail soon after that. A more diverse selection of small-scale merchants with lower expectations for profit and greater flexibility would have enabled the project to survive. 

Developing the Chapel Square Mall also dovetailed nicely with the new credo of modern planning: separating land use. Areas that had a mix of industrial, commercial, and residential buildings were targeted for renewal. To Lee and Logue, such neighborhoods were old-fashioned, disorderly, and run-down. In addition, a disastrous fire in a garment factory in 1957 killed fifteen people. If the garment factory had not been hemmed in by residential buildings and offices, Logue thought, perhaps the fire would not have killed anyone. However, Logue also ignored how the mix of uses may have kept residential living there affordable.

Logue also embraced modern architecture, not from any sense this would help the city but from his own sense of aesthetics. Dick Lee was also enthusiastic, believing that new architecture would send a message that New Haven was reinventing itself. The architect Paul Rudolph was hired to build the Temple Street Garage, considered a significant modernist landmark today. This aesthetic sometime alienated residents, who often preferred the older, more traditional styles of buildings. Many times, Lee and Logue were themselves disappointed in the buildings they asked for, such as the Southern New England Telephone Company headquarters. Superblocks were built around these modern structures to give them a sense of grandeur and monumentality. While intended to bring light and air to urbanity, in practice they created vacant, pedestrian-unfriendly spaces that people did not want to spend time in.

The Temple Street Parking Garage
The Temple Street Parking Garage in New Haven. Source: Wikipedia

Logue and Lee also attempted to improve the housing stock of New Haven, but did not anticipate the consequences their actions would have. Federal funds were used to encourage landlords and homeowners to rehabilitate their housing stock. While this program was favorable to homeowners and landlords, renters were displaced by these programs - A fifth of New Haven residents were forced to move during Lee’s sixteen years in office. Families could move to a new neighborhood after their old one was demolished, only to find it targeted by the urban renewal bulldozer a few months later. One social worker described working with multiple families that had been displaced three times in a few years. When new and improved housing did come online, displaced residents often found they could no longer afford the neighborhood they once lived in. Logue was frustrated by a lack of resources for displaced residents - most of the funding for those displaced by federal urban renewal projects was earmarked for senior citizens only. To make matters worse, the lack of metropolitan coordination meant that displaced residents could not be housed outside of New Haven’s boundaries either.

Critics of urban renewal called urban renewalf “Negro Removal”. This misinterprets the intentions of urban planners in the 1950s. Officials like Logue hoped to create integrated neighborhoods by encouraging whites to move back into the city where minorities already lived. However, what actually happened was that they were pushed out of these new and improved neighborhoods, with no compensation for their troubles. However, by the time the effects on New Haven became clear, Logue had been called to work his magic in Boston, where he would be given even more authority to turn around a city as he saw fit.


Logue initially was approached by newly elected Boston Mayor Collins to lead the Boston Redevelopment Authority (BRA). Logue was suspicious at first of approaching Boston’s political scene, where infighting was legendary and vendettas lasted decades. However, Collins reassured Logue that only an outsider could work successfully there. In Boston, people took score from the beginning of your career.

First, some Boston history. Initially, Boston’s politics was dominated by the Protestant Yankee trading elite, known as the “Boston Brahmins”. However, as Catholic Irish and Italian immigrants arrived, a new political machine emerged that was dominated by James Michael Curley, who served four terms as mayor, a term as governor, and two terms in federal prison. Curley bitterly opposed what he termed the “codfish aristocracy” and styled himself the mayor of the poor. The Brahmin elite retaliated by depriving Boston of home rule from Beacon Hill. Even the police commissioner of Boston was appointed by the state legislature. Curley might rule Boston, but the Yankees would make sure he would have few tools to rule with.

The legacy of the political struggle was a city in crisis. Curley ensured the success of his machine through patronage jobs and taxing downtown real estate to the hilt while ensuring the neighborhoods that provided him votes had low property taxes. Of course, for a kickback fee to Curley and his cronies, a businessman could find his taxes discounted or even waived. The result was property taxes twice as high as in New York and Chicago, and a bloated civil service budget 50% higher than the national average. In 1959, Boston’s bonds were downgraded to near-junk status. Unsurprisingly, city services deteriorated under Curley’s rule, and businesses bypassed Boston altogether, choosing to invest their capital elsewhere in the state. 

After Curley went to prison in 1947, City Clerk John Hynes found himself in the mayor’s seat, with a chance to clean up the city and safeguard its future. However, he was constrained by the city’s limited resources and powers. With no ability to raise revenue, Hynes turned to the feds, who in the 1950s provided money only for highways and slum clearance. In a series of unforced errors, Hynes embarked on several disastrous urban renewal projects in Boston, such as jamming I-93 (known as the Central Artery) through downtown Boston. This project was meant to whisk suburbanites to and from the city but ended up creating a massive traffic headache. The Central Artery would eventually have to be moved underground in a project nicknamed “the Big Dig”, the most expensive highway undertaking in the history of the United States. Another infamous project involved razing the Italian and Jewish West End neighborhood to build luxury apartment towers. While “slum” clearance was par for the course in cities of the time, the project suffered from opaqueness and a weak relocation effort. Notoriously, Hynes gave the project to his former assistant, Jerome Rappenport without any kind of bidding process. The demolition of the West End would come to be the textbook example of all that was wrong with urban renewal in the 50s.  While Hynes did start several successful projects, such as Government Center and the Prudential Center, none of them were completed by the time he stepped down as mayor in 1960.

In a legendary upset election, independent politician John Collins would defeat the machine to become Hynes’ successor. His lack of ties to the existing political structure would give him the freedom to hire outsiders such as Logue to help turn around the city. Collins still inherited a lot of problems. Neighborhoods had become downright hostile to city hall, fearful their homes would be the next to be demolished by the BRA. The city was near bankruptcy, and services such as schools were substandard; the state only covered 8% of Boston’s education budget, making Massachusetts 47th in the nation for state contributions to education. Collins tentatively reached out to the Brahmin elite and found that the hated codfish aristocracy was willing to extend a hand back.

Logue would face an uphill battle convincing neighborhoods he had their interests in mind. While Logue had nothing to do with the destruction of the West End, as director of the BRA, he was tainted with it in the minds of residents. Logue would never escape the association, no matter how many times he told people it happened before he arrived. Unlike in New Haven, where he had Dick Lee to manage the politics, Logue would have to cultivate his own allies in Boston. One was private investment. Learning lessons from New Haven, Logue let small merchants have input into how to change the Central Business District. Another was the archdiocese of Boston. Boston was the most Catholic major city in America, and the church had substantial investments in the city in the form of churches, hospitals, and parochial schools. After Vatican II, the church would side with Logue, even ordering priests to sermonize about the benefits of urban renewal. Logue returned the favor by removing the hated Washington Street Elevated (Orange Line) from the shadow of Boston’s mother church. A third key ally was The Boston Globe, one of the city’s 5 major newspapers. Newspapers depended on a thriving city economy for advertising revenue, and editor Tom Winship used his paper to provide an endless stream of positive coverage for Logue’s efforts.

Logue used public money to spur private investment in Boston. The cornerstone of this strategy was the Government Center project, envisioned as a replacement for the red-light district Scollay Square. Government Center would consist of 3 public buildings, including Boston City Hall, a major parking garage, and a plaza. The architects constructing Government Center wanted to emphasize faith in the power and integrity of government, so they built in a concrete brutalist style. They also wanted openness and transparency, so they put Boston City Council chambers in an area where the public could easily come and go at will. However, Government Center’s architecture, would prove controversial. Boston City Hall is particularly hated by locals, and many mayors have campaigned on a promise to remove the building. Not all of the buildings at Government Center are modern, however. Logue also preserved some historically important buildings nearby, giving Boston a mixture of the old and the new that gives the city a unique feel today.ortant buildings nearby, giving Boston a mixture of the old and the new that gives the city a unique feel today.

Government Center was not only a government project; it was also meant to help Boston’s private sector as well. Logue instructed Boston City Hall’s designers not to build a cafeteria, ensuring workers would go out and spend money at nearby restaurants. The strategy worked; not only did employment in the area increase from 6,000 to 25,000 workers after the project was completed, the assessed valuation of properties in the general area rose 60%. New skyscrapers started to be built in downtown Boston, such as the State Street Bank building in 1966.

As well as rebuilding downtown Boston, Logue rebuilt Boston’s residential neighborhoods of Roxbury, Charlestown, and the South End. Unlike in New Haven, where mass demolition was practiced, Logue wanted to preserve at least 75% of the housing in the neighborhoods targeted for renewal, though in practice this could vary quite a bit. Homes deemed substandard were encouraged to be rehabbed by the BRA through low-cost financing. Rehabilitation was easier said than done. Even when offered a 3% loan, residents and landlords were suspicious. They told Logue “We don’t trust you”. Even when owners were eager to rehabilitate their property, they faced another obstacle: Banks, fire insurance companies, and the Federal Housing Administration (FHA) that backed their loans had redlined poorer and minority neighborhoods, deeming them too risky to lend to. Logue successfully lobbied the FHA to reverse its discriminatory practices and formed a consortium of Boston banks to provide loans to poor neighborhoods. Sadly, Logue’s efforts backfired: banks, instead of lending to minorities in all neighborhoods, would lend to minorities only in redlined neighborhoods, further contributing to segregation.

Another problem was a familiar one to New Haven: how to relocate families displaced by urban renewal projects. One option that Logue had was the federal 221(d)(3) program, which allowed non-profits to sponsor low-income projects. Private investment was out of the question; buildings under the 221(d)(3) program had an average net profit of 7%, while upper-income housing was twice that. However, many families could not afford these new “low-income” 221(d)(3) apartments, whereas they could afford the substandard apartments they previously inhabited. They were also too low-density to effectively house all those displaced. Realistically, the best option for the BRA was to take advantage of the city losing 172,000 residents between 1955 and 1965, housing them elsewhere in the city.

While Logue believed in neighborhoods as an integrated space, he often ran up against the fact that Boston residents had deep, loyal roots to their neighborhoods, neighborhoods that defined themselves by ethnic and class exclusivity. In the Washington Park neighborhood of Roxbury, for example, Logue worked with a black middle-class organization, the Freedom House Community Center (FHCC). FHCC worked enthusiastically with Logue but wanted to push poor blacks out of the neighborhood. While this comes across as harsh today, the middle-class African-Americans worried that Washington Park would become completely responsible for poor blacks, in effect undoing the integration they had fought so hard for. FHCC therefore encouraged Logue to bulldoze as many dilapidated structures and build as little 221(d)(3) housing as possible to house displaced residents. Of the 2,380 families forced to move, only 581 remained in Washington Park.

However, of all the neighborhoods Logue worked with, the neighborhood of Charlestown was the most intransigent to his renewal efforts. Charlestown was an Irish, socially insular neighborhood separated physically from the rest of the city by Boston Harbor. Consisting of decaying tenements, abandoned industrial sites, and highways, Charlestown was the poorest neighborhood in Boston. Charlestown was also hemorrhaging people; by 1965, Charlestown’s population would be almost half of what it was in 1950. It was clear something needed to change. However, Charlestown was wracked by residents suspicious of outsiders and political infighting within the neighborhood. Logue was unable to find a neighborhood organization to partner with, and when he called a meeting in 1963, residents turned out en masse to oppose him. To sell urban renewal to townies, the BRA had to put together a significantly better deal. Logue promised no more than 10% demolition in Charlestown, that the neighborhood would remain mostly Irish, and that no new public housing projects would be built. After a 1965 meeting featuring acrimonious debate and the punching of a priest, Charlestown won the best urban renewal deal of all the neighborhoods in Boston. A critic of Logue’s observed that “the amount of clearance that takes place [in a neighborhood] appears to be inversely related to neighborhood political strength.”

After years of administering the BRA, Logue decided to run for mayor of Boston in the summer of 1967. This was the first, and only, time Logue would leave his administrator seat for the political arena. However, Logue would find politics a different beast, and finished fourth in a crowded field, losing to Kevin White. While initially Logue seemed like a natrual front-runner for the mayoralty, serveal reasons contributed to his defeat. Logue was the last to declare his candidacy, giving him precious little time to organize. Instead of building a city organization, he instead relied on BRA staffers, mostly newcomers to Boston, to organize his campaign. As an outsider, Logue was regarded with suspicion and faced off contenders whose families had lived in Boston for over a hundred years. Logue’s visibility in urban renewal also tended to work against him. One newspaper reporter observed “His name is known everywhere, not always favorably.”. Logue was a wooden campaigner and often aggravated the wounds he had created during the renewal process. Finally, Logue would attempt to challenge Keven White’s nomination signatures in the dirtiest way possible. Instead of directly challenging signatures, Logue had someone ostensibly unconnected to the campaign bring up charges of forgery. When journalists eventually tracked this shadowy figure to the Logue campaign, he denied the connection, making Logue seem dishonest. While White probably cheated on his signatures, it ended up hurting Logue more than White.

Disappointed by the result, Logue left Boston on a sour note. However, Governor Nelson Rockefeller would soon promote Logue to an even higher position: Urban Development Coordinator of New York State.

The Boston that Logue left in 1968 was still struggling, but on the cusp of a renaissance. Downtown Boston was transforming from a manufacturing hub to an economy based  on finance and knowledge industries. While Logue failed to integrate Boston’s neighborhoods, he did significantly improve the housing stock and build new amenities such as schools, libraries, and YMCAs. Boston residents found that neighborhood organizing was an effective way to advocate for their interests, and used their newfound power to stop major highway projects from destroying their neighborhoods, albeit after Logue left.

New York State

In New York, Rockefeller had been trying for years to build subsidized housing, but bond issues in New York State had to pass a voter referendum. Five times Rockefeller submitted his plans to the voters, and five times he had been refused. This time, Rockefeller hit upon an alternative strategy: creating an independent public authority with its own borrowing powers: the Urban Development Corporation (UDC). Sometimes considered a fourth branch of government, public authorities can borrow from future revenues and are insulated from politics by a slowly rotating board of directors. Since they have their own powers and revenue sources, public authorities are more effective at long-term planning than typical government agencies. However, critics charge that public authorities are also unaccountable to the public. Robert Moses, for example, used the power of New York State public-benefit corporations to create an empire where the politicians who supposedly oversaw him were accountable to him.

Rockefeller had previously created another authority dedicated to building housing, the Housing Finance Agency (HFA). However, the HFA was limited in that each of its individual projects must be self-supporting, and so it only focused on low-risk middle-class housing. The UDC, in contrast, was built to take risks. Its bonds were issued as general-purpose bonds, not tied to any specific project. The thought was that the UDC could take on some bad projects as well as good, and issuing general-purpose bonds would pool the risk. The tradeoff, however, was that projects could be left unfinished if the next bond issue didn’t receive enough backing from investors.

After promising to pay off Logue’s campaign debts and granting a substantial salary, Rockefeller convinced Logue to join this state superagency. It would have substantial powers, including eminent domain, abatement of property taxes, and most controversial of all, the ability to override local zoning and building codes. New York legislators were reluctant to pass such a bill, complaining that it eroded the home rule of their legislative districts. However, after Martin Luther King’s assassination in 1968, Rockefeller would call upon New York legislators to pass the UDC as a tribute to King’s legacy, with Logue as the head.

Logue wasted little time getting to work with the UDC, evaluating sites upstate and downstate for potential developments. Over the next seven years, the UDC would build 117 housing developments comprising 33,000 units for 100,000 people. However, it initially looked like New York City would refuse help from the UDC. Mayor John Lindsay had a contentious rivalry with Rockefeller, and jealously guarded the city’s home rule. However, the city had an urgent need for new housing; 130,000 were on the public housing waiting lists. When Logue said that the UDC was quickly running out of funds to help the city, Lindsay swallowed his pride and made a deal with Logue. The UDC would agree to build 12,000 units, but only in projects that had the mayor’s approval.

One of the reasons the UDC was able to construct so much housing was that it constructed fast. Urban Renewal was a slow process. Normally, a project took five to seven years, and in New York City a new residential project could take thirteen. An enormous thicket of regulations at all levels of government discouraged private developers from even trying to work in New York State. The UDC could bypass many of these regulations and speed things up by being a one-stop shop for land acquisition, finance, and construction. But still, Logue felt an even greater need for speed. He instituted “fast-tracking” of projects, where projects were started before the final funding and permitting was in place. In some cases, thanks to fast-tracking, he built new residential projects in eighteen months..

In order to fund fast-tracked projects, Logue would use a strategy similar to what is causing the property crisis in China today: he would use funds earmarked for one project to complete another fast-tracked project. As long as the faucet kept flowing, Logue could continue to set construction records. Logue was particularly adept at getting federal funds, coming to the HUD at the end of the year to claim uncommitted funds. Logue knew that HUD would rather give the money to him than return it to Congress.

Logue had learned from his experiences in New Haven and Boston that mass clearance of occupied land was best avoided. Instead, he looked to build in areas that would minimize displacement. One option was vacant land that had already been cleared by prior urban renewal programs but had not attracted a developer. Not only was the land free for development, they had become eyesores. Existing residents were often happy to let Logue develop such sites, where demolition would provoke opposition. Another option was undeveloped land outside of major cities. Instead of building individual residential projects, Logue planned something more ambitious: to create entirely new communities from scratch. These were modeled after the New Towns movement in the United Kingdom. New Towns dispensed with the modernist orthodoxy of separating functions. Residents would live, work, and shop in the same self-contained community, integrated by class and race.

The largest of the New Towns was Roosevelt Island in New York City. Formerly known as Welfare Island1, it lied in the East River between Manhattan and Queens. Welfare Island was home to the institutions the city sought to keep at a distance: prisons, asylums, and chronic disease hospitals. By the late 1960s, however, only two hospitals and a training facility for the New York Fire Department were left on the island. With views of Manhattan and Queens, and an extensive waterfront, Welfare Island was ripe for development. Logue planned to build 5,000  apartments to house 18,000 residents on the island. The island was designed to be walkable and car-free, with free electric mini-buses transporting residents. A unique garbage collection system was built, where a series of pneumatic tubes are used to send trash to a central site for compacting.

Logue also hoped that constructing New Towns would realize his dreams of integration along the lines of income, race, and age without replacing residents wholesale. The UDC decided upon a 70-20-10 formula: 70% moderate income, 20% low-income, and 10% seniors, who were usually low-income. A minority of units were built at market rates, but they were the most desirable units, with the best views of Manhattan. Logue also built Roosevelt Island with people with disabilities in mind. Apartments were built for the disabled, and transportation around and off the island was made accessible. Finally, Logue made efforts to prevent projects or buildings from being associated exclusively with one race. 70% of units would be rented to whites in the belief that if it were any less, whites would refuse to rent the apartments, with the rest rented to minorities. This did not always work as planned; a development called Twin Parks in the Bronx became so known for racial strife that families desperate for housing were reluctant to move in. Large central plazas designed to foster interaction instead became gang war zones, forcing the UDC to install fences and other barriers to separate them. After Twin Parks, Logue became wary of creating large open spaces. There were critics of the social engineering required to integrate the New Towns. Jane Jacobs said of the New Towns: “You take a clean slate and you make a new world. That’s basically artificial. There is no new world you can make without the old world … The notion that you could discard the old world and now make a new one. This is what was so bad about Modernism.”. Logue was more comfortable with top-down affirmative action than building integrated communities organically.

The UDC also used its power to ignore local building codes to pioneer new housing designs. For example, some housing in Roosevelt Island used skip-stop elevators. Skip-stop elevators only went to every third floor, allowing apartments above and below the elevator floor to occupy the entire story. Logue thought that architects were more interested in making a statement than building livable environments, so architects were required to live in the buildings they designed for two weeks. Some improvements as a result of these “live-ins” included enlarging bedrooms, improving noise reduction between apartments, and adding more telephone booths. Some innovations did not work as well, such as modular construction. The UDC developed a factory to produce precast concrete components, pre-assembled brick walls, and “plumbing walls” with completed fittings and pipes. However, the UDC was unable to find manufacturers able to do business on limited order volumes, and trade unions were resistant to change. These methods were also expensive to develop, disappointing the hope that they might be used to stop the ever-spiraling cost of construction.

Logue’s most controversial program was the Fair Share housing program. As a pilot, the UDC would build one hundred units of housing in each of nine towns in Westchester County. These were to be allocated according to the standard UDC formula of 70-20-10. Priority would be given to existing residents of the town, and built in low-profile structures that would not disrupt the existing neighborhood character. What Logue thought a modest proposal was received bitterly from Westchester residents, who resented the UDC imposing housing upon their towns. A thousand citizens showed up to one meeting to oppose it, and Logue received death threats. Residents feared that new residents would put an undue burden on school budgets and that the new residents would change the class and racial makeup of their neighborhoods. The UDC attempted to assuage their concerns, reminding them that the UDC made payments in lieu of taxes abated, and that Albany would compensate for the influx of new students. Logue tried to compromise by reducing the number of units, moving proposed sites, and limiting eligibility to town employees. But it soon became clear that the UDC would have to use its powers to override zoning and building codes to implement the fair share program.

Using those powers was one thing when Logue was opposed by poor renters, but quite another when he was fighting wealthy suburban homeowners. Residents brought numerous lawsuits against the UDC, and lobbied elected leaders, including Rockefeller. Elected officials rushed to oppose the UDC and Logue, and Rockefeller grew concerned it would impact the GOP’s majority in the 1972 state elections. Rockefeller initially declared a moratorium on Fair Share housing, but that failed to mollify voters. Forced by political circumstance, the governor signed a bill in June 1973 to curtail the UDC’s powers in New York’s towns and villages while keeping them in the cities. Logue had no bitterness towards Rockefeller, saying that he was the last one to leave a sinking ship.

The fair share debacle marked the beginning of the end for the UDC. Nixon, emboldened by his 1972 landslide election, announced he was impounding all previously allocated funding for housing, whether or not a project was already approved, and announced an eighteen-month moratorium on all housing subsidies. Under the “New Federalism”, states would get block grants for housing to be spent by the state legislatures, the legislators of which Logue had enraged with the fair share housing project. Now Logue’s habit of fast-tracking projects worked against him, as projects already started would not get the funds they needed to be completed. Logue desperately searched for new sources of revenue, but by 1974, the economy had soured. The state of New York was near insolvency, and investors were no longer convinced the state’s promise to back the UDC would be honored. Logue reluctantly raised rents on the UDC’s properties, defeating its social mission. Nothing could delay the inevitable, however, and the UDC defaulted on $105 million of its bonds in February 1975, leaving eighty-five projects unfinished. Logue, always proud of eschewing civil service protections, was fired soon after by new governor Hugh Carey. The state, in order to preserve its credit rating, was forced to bail out the private investors backing the UDC.

Amid accusations of misconduct and financial mismanagement, the state set up a commission to investigate the UDC’s actions and Logue’s management of the corporation. The commission cleared Logue of any wrongdoing but noted that Logue had allowed for lax financial practices. Logue, in his haste to build, ignored sound financial practices and made commitments above the UDC’s debt ceiling. When borrowing to meet such commitments, it was done at a higher interest rate than the mortgages issued. But fundamentally, the source of the UDC’s problems was a contradiction between its social mission and its obligations to its bondholders. If the UDC set market-rate rents, low-income renters could not afford to live there. If the UDC set rents to be affordable, it could not pay back its bonds. Logue decided that when push came to shove, he was going all-in on building as much housing as he could.

Was the UDC a flawed concept? Wishful thinking permeated the creation and administration of the UDC: a for-profit entity could never build the low-income housing that was needed. Nor could the state do it on its own; Even with the support of tax-free bonds, subsidies from the federal government was the only way the math could work. However, some things could have been tweaked. An early IRS ruling said that only 10% of the UDC’s bonds could go towards more lucrative industrial and commercial development. But despite its flaws, the UDC built more housing than any other effort in New York’s history, housing that nobody else would build.

South Bronx

Logue’s opportunity to redeem himself came when President Jimmy Carter visited Charlotte Street in the South Bronx in October 1977. Carter was shocked by the devastation he saw and insisted something be done. Newly elected Mayor Ed Koch tapped Deputy Mayor and former Bronx Borough President Herman Badillo to create a plan. The plan for the South Bronx was ambitious; it proposed $1.5bn to build 26,500 units over seven years. Charlotte Street would host a 732-unit low-income housing co-op as a centerpiece of the plan, with Logue as a consultant on the project. However, the cash-strapped White House soon backpedaled on the plan, and the Board of Estimate rejected it in 1979. Logue, however, hung on as president of the South Bronx Development Organization (SBDO), determined to see the Charlotte Street project through. 

Charlotte Street Devestation, 1981
Charlotte Street in 1981. Source: NYPL

This would be the biggest challenge of Logue’s career. The South Bronx had declined to be the poorest area in the nation in the 1980 census. After WWII, the GI Bill encouraged residents to leave for the suburbs, because the rental-dominated Bronx had few opportunities for ownership. Redlining of neighborhoods discouraged investment, and the Bronx had more than its share of public housing built in the borough. The fatal blow came when Robert Moses built the Cross Bronx Expressway. The highway bisected the South Bronx, displacing sixty thousand residents and depressing property values. Landlords soon found destroying their properties more lucrative than renting them out:

The journalist Bill Moyers laid out the brutal truth: you could buy a large occupied apartment house in the Bronx for less than $1,000, take advantage of the city’s three-year tax moratorium while collecting several thousand dollars a month in rents, provide minimal heat and services, and when enough tenants gave up in disgust, you could buy a first-class arson job for $200 and collect on the federally subsidized fire insurance to walk away with $70,000 to $80,000 In the 1970s, the Bronx averaged twelve thousand arson fires a year, over thirty a day

City officials had seriously floated abandoning the South Bronx to focus on areas that could be saved, infuriating the residents left behind. To hide the decline, the Koch administration created Potemkin villages on the Cross Bronx Expressway, putting curtains and flowerpots in the windowsills of abandoned buildings. Corrupt politicians, under lax supervision from the city, looted funds meant for restoring the Bronx to line their own pockets.

Ed Koch was apprehensive about letting Logue run the show in the South Bronx after the spectacular collapse of the UDC. He only agreed to it after seeing that Logue would have no financial autonomy, limited powers and a lot of supervision. It helped that the state and city had fiscal crises of their own, showing that the UDC debacle was not entirely of Logue’s own making. Logue endured the skepticism, eager to work again in a field he loved.

One of Logue’s priorities in the Bronx was to make it an attractive place for employers. The Bronx had a dire employment situation - over 20,000 manufacturing jobs had disappeared between 1959 and 1980. Logue developed new industrial parks near the Cross Bronx expressway, raising $7.4m to bring 1,000 jobs to the South Bronx. The SBDO took charge of demolishing abandoned buildings, moving utility easements, and expediting zoning changes to develop these industrial sites. At job fairs, he promised companies considering the Bronx that he would personally accelerate the approval process for permission to operate in New York City. Logue also believed that revitalization included building new social services, such as health centers, job training, and parks. Such services earned him the appreciation and trust of South Bronx residents.

Logue’s biggest passion, however was constructing new housing. While Badillo’s ambitious proposal was nixed, the Charlotte Street project continued on as “Charlotte Gardens”. Instead of apartment buildings, Logue planned a ninety unit neighborhood of single family detached homes. The plan was so audacious it generated international headlines. Building single-family homes in the most dangerous neighborhood in New York City seemed the height of folly. But Logue had noticed that despite the devastation in the Bronx, some homeowners lovingly cared for their homes. Logue thought that homeownership would bring the sort of stability Charlotte Street so desperately needed. There were practical reasons as well as idealistic ones. Logue found that building detached single-family homes would be cheaper than building row houses, which required expensive masonry firewalls between abutting buildings. In the age of private solutions to social problems, Logue would not be able to get the funding for apartment buildings from the state or federal governments.

To assuage the skepticism of city officials, Logue built model homes to show potential buyers. When the first models opened in April 1983, thousands of visitors lined up to see the homes. After six weeks, there was a waitlist of 2,000 people to buy the houses, far more than the 90 units planned. To discourage speculation and stabilize the neighborhood, prospective owners had to agree not to sell their home for ten years  or face substantial penalties. None of the hopeful buyers had owned a house before, and 70% of the prospective buyers were Bronx residents, all working families. As hoped, there was little turnover of the homes in Charlotte Gardens; twenty-five years later, two-thirds of the original residents still lived there. Logue laughed when initially skeptical officials, such as Mayor Ed Koch, tried to take credit for Charlotte Gardens.

Charlotte Street after Charlotte Gardens was built, 1989
Charlotte Street in 1989. Source: NYPL

Ed Logue also had to adapt his top-down methods to his comparative powerlessness at the SBDO. Previously, Logue practiced pluralist democracy, where he identified the power brokers of a city and cultivated them as allies rather than submitting his plans to the people. In the Bronx, however, he had to work with more grassroots democracy to realize his goals. Instead of powerful city officials, Logue worked with other community organizations to build Charlotte Gardens. For example, in Boston, Logue worked with the highest levels of the church hierarchy to promote urban renewal. In the Bronx, Logue worked with priests and nuns, who were more likely to challenge the church hierarchy than speak for it. Logue also had to cobble together funding from many different sources instead of relying on the federal government to fund his initiatives. Instead, Logue turned to the “third sector”, non-profits, for funding.

Logue departed the SBDO in 1985 to retire in Boston. He spent the last fifteen years of his life running a small consulting business and lecturing at MIT, virtually forgotten by the public.


What can we learn from Logue’s career? While the author says she is not here to praise Logue, I think she secretly has a great deal of respect and admiration for Logue. She criticizes Logue for his top-down approach but also admits that to let the grassroots decide is to allow the worst aspects of NIMBYism to stagnate our cities. We have to strike a balance between dictatorship from on high and the public: a negotiated cityscape. While it’s clear that the private sector will do the majority of the work building homes, the government must not abandon its responsibility to ensure that everyone is able to find housing. The private sector cannot take on the risk of providing low-income housing, so federal, state, and local governments must step in to provide it. Incremental reforms are best, rather than large-scale revolution that displaces thousands of residents. We also need coordination across entire metro areas, not just individual local governments. Logue was constantly frustrated that he was unable to house the poor in the suburbs of cities while he re-developed them. Most of all, the spirit of Ed Logue is one of experimentation. Logue learned from his mistakes in New Haven, Boston, and New York. We should take the history of urban renewal and find better ways to build our cities. That is the future Logue would have wanted us to build.

  1. Surprisingly, Roosevelt had no other major monument dedicated to him in the state at the time. 

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