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Purging the Poorest

Public Housing and the Design Politics of Twice-Cleared Communities

Purging the Poorest

Public Housing and the Design Politics of Twice-Cleared Communities

The building and management of public housing is often seen as a signal failure of American public policy, but this is a vastly oversimplified view. In Purging the Poorest, Lawrence J. Vale offers a new narrative of the seventy-five-year struggle to house the “deserving poor.”

In the 1930s, two iconic American cities, Atlanta and Chicago, demolished their slums and established some of this country’s first public housing. Six decades later, these same cities also led the way in clearing public housing itself. Vale’s groundbreaking history of these “twice-cleared” communities provides unprecedented detail about the development, decline, and redevelopment of two of America’s most famous housing projects: Chicago’s Cabrini-Green and Atlanta’s Techwood /Clark Howell Homes. Vale offers the novel concept of design politics to show how issues of architecture and urbanism are intimately bound up in thinking about policy. Drawing from extensive archival research and in-depth interviews, Vale recalibrates the larger cultural role of public housing, revalues the contributions of public housing residents, and reconsiders the role of design and designers.

448 pages | 63 halftones, 6 line drawings | 6 x 9 | © 2013

Historical Studies of Urban America

Architecture: American Architecture

Chicago and Illinois

History: American History, Urban History


"The beauty of Mr. Vale’s book is that as a scrupulous scholar he lays out his two case studies with all the careful detail you as a reader need to judge his conclusions."

The Wall Street Journal

"Producing a thoroughly researched, well-written volume, Vale has contributed an eloquent history to the literature on US public housing."


Purging the Poorest advances a fresh and convincing periodization of the history of American public housing that illuminates clear patterns in the program’s convoluted past. Lawrence J. Vale’s treatment of this subject is the most original and significant I have read.”

Gail Radford | author of Modern Housing for America

“This is an exceptional work of original scholarship that will appeal to a wide range of historians, sociologists, political scientists, city planners, and affordable housing advocates. Its topic—public housing and its redevelopment in the past and present—examines one of the most contentious urban policies to emerge from the New Deal. Striking, thoughtful, and convincing, Vale’s account makes for engaging reading that is constantly relevant to current debates.”

D. Bradford Hunt | author of Blueprint for Disaster: The Unraveling of Chicago Public Housing

“A well-written, thought-provoking book. It adds an important historical and contextual analysis to the literature on public housing.”

Urban Affairs Review

“Through meticulous archival research and in-depth interviewing Vale examines the nexus between architectural design and the politics which undergirded the initial development of public housing, its subsequent deterioration, destruction and finally reinvention. . . . This is a great book and one that I wish the designers and advocates for mixed income public housing transformation policies would read.”

Deirdre Oakley | Journal of Urban Affairs

Table of Contents

List of Illustrations

1. Public Housing, Design Politics, and Twice-Cleared Communities
2. Public Housing and Private Initiative: Developing Atlanta’s Techwood and Clark Howell Homes
3. Redeveloping Techwood and Clark Howell: The Purges of Progress
4. Up from Little Hell: Developing Chicago’s Frances Cabrini Homes
5. Urban Renewal and the Rise of Cabrini-Green
6. Staving Off Collapse: Mediated Violence and the Beginning of Cabrini’s End
7. Bringing the Gold Coast to the Slum: Cabrini-Green’s Redevelopment and the Litigation of Inclusion
8. Conclusion: Public Housing and the Margins of Empathy



International Planning History Society: IPHS Book Prizes

Urban Affairs Association: Urban Affairs Association Best Book Award

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