Mark Byrnes is a former senior associate editor at CityLab who writes about design and architecture.
Lurking in the background of today’s Jane Jacobs vs. Robert Moses stories is a man who had a little bit of both in his soul.
This post is part of a CityLab series on power—the political kind, the stuff inside batteries and gas tanks, and the transformative might of mass movements.
The Jane Jacobs vs. Robert Moses battle of Postwar urban ideas lives on in the minds of many to this day. There are books, documentaries, even an opera to satisfy a seemingly endless need to relive this rivalry (and a certain online publication that loves to participate in the discussion).
But lurking in the background of these stories is Ed Logue, a figure who had a little bit of Jacobs and Moses in his soul, using centralized political power to rebuild urban centers and create humane, equitable neighborhoods across the Northeast throughout his career.
Logue transformed the downtowns of New Haven and Boston before building tens of thousands of affordable homes across New York State. The results were not always successful or appreciated, and his jobs became harder as the federal government took on increasingly diminished roles in fair housing and city building initiatives. But despite the challenge of diminishing resources on top of opposition from conservative politicians and wealthy suburbanites, Logue held on to his belief in the responsibility of government to make better cities and happier people.
In a contemporary landscape where Republican rule dominates state and federal politics, Logue’s ability to acquire power and resources to execute his plans now seems impossible. His actions seem worthy of reflection.
Lizabeth Cohen, dean of the Radcliffe Institute for Advanced Study at Harvard, is currently writing the final two chapters of her next book, Saving America’s Cities: Ed Logue and the Struggle to Renew Urban America in the Suburban Age (Farrar, Straus & Giroux). Cohen says that she sees his work in New Haven, Boston, New York State, and the South Bronx, “as four distinct eras in urban redevelopment strategy. The larger national trends in urban redevelopment match up well with Logue’s career trajectory.”
CityLab spoke with Cohen recently to ask her about Logue’s career and why he matters today.
What was Logue able to achieve during his time in New Haven?
New Haven was pretty typical of what urban renewal looked like in the 1950s but it was particularly intense there as New Haven was known as a model city of urban renewal and received more money per capita than any other city at the time because Ed Logue and Mayor Dick Lee were incredibly entrepreneurial about getting federal money for their projects. This stage typically involved major clearance of run-down, deteriorating, poverty-stricken residential areas and declining downtowns that were no longer competitive with expanding suburbs. Logue knew New Haven well, having been a student there, and was committed to the city and to working with Lee who had just been elected as a progressive mayor to turn the city around. New Haven was a dying industrial city. Manufacturing had been in decline for decades. Railroads were no longer where the action was. Beyond Yale, New Haven was in trouble.
Lee and Logue did things that were being done all over the country—clearing neighborhoods, leveling a lot of downtown, building a new downtown center that mimicked a suburban shopping center. And they learned a lot while doing that. One of major points I try to make in my book is that urban renewal was not a static idea—it was ever-changing. People like Logue who worked in urban renewal learned a lot of lessons and made changes along the way. When Logue left New Haven he was no longer convinced you should tear down a neighborhood and build something new. In the Italian neighborhood of Wooster Square, he started rehabbing buildings and tried to create a mixed-income community, dealing with poverty by socioeconomically integrating neighborhoods so that poor people could have access to the same good schools and services that the middle class had.
The downtown Church Street project was important. Although there were great hopes for it, it represents the misguidedness of bringing the most successful elements of the suburbs to downtown, where it failed. At the center was a shopping center attached to a highway that brought people right downtown into a garage attached to a shopping center with two major department stores and a lot of smaller stores inside. But no connection, no store windows, facing onto the streets. The suburban solution imported downtown sacrificed exactly what makes an urban downtown unique—the pedestrian experience on the street. The project failed long after Logue had left, leaving a huge hole in middle of New Haven. But Logue never tried a project like that again.
There was a lot of experimentation going on in urban renewal at the time. It was not a case where redevelopers had all the answers from the start. For example, Logue and others knew there should be community involvement on these projects but they believed in a concept I call ”pluralist democracy.” They created a structure of consultation based on identifying community leaders for input, not opening up the process to the grassroots. But that was typical for the ‘50s. In the ‘60s, there was much greater expectation that democracy should mean what I label a more “populist democracy,” with neighborhood groups expecting to be a part of an open process.
What makes his time in Boston so important?
Boston is an interesting case. A larger city than New Haven, it too was dying. It had been suffering from a loss of manufacturing and had no new investment downtown—hardly even a new building—since the 1920s. It also had some of the highest property taxes in the country and was basically bankrupt. But Boston was still economically viable unlike New Haven because it had a committed local Yankee elite who remained in the city. However, those elites had been in a stalemate with the Irish Democratic machine, long dominated by James Michael Curley, since the early decades of the 20th century with the machine seeking to divert resources to their own constituents in the neighborhoods, So the Yankee business elite responded by refusing to invest in downtown. They leapfrogged over the city and made their deals with the state of Massachusetts instead.
The real turning point came in November 1959 when John Collins was elected Mayor in an upset. He was determined to break the stalemate and revitalize the city and he went looking for someone who could help him do it. He saw that New Haven was getting huge amounts of federal dollars, so he recruited Logue to Boston as a consultant. Logue walked the city from end to end to get to know it and come up with a redevelopment plan, and then in early 1961 Collins hired Logue to head a powerful Boston Redevelopment Authority (BRA). Logue demanded that planning and redevelopment be unified in the BRA, making it an enormously powerful agency.
Boston had already gone through its ‘phase one’ of urban renewal before Logue arrived. The West End project was an extremely controversial project, where an immigrant, working-class neighborhood was leveled and replaced with middle class housing. That was very much a part of the ‘phase one’ strategy most cities had embraced at first—trying to keep middle class residents in the city rather than fleeing to the suburbs by providing attractive new housing.
Logue did everything possible to separate himself from the West End project and vowed never to undertake anything like it. His Boston efforts were of two kinds—projects downtown like Government Center and efforts to improve deteriorating neighborhoods, particularly by providing more affordable housing.
The Government Center project is very important in that it was effort to put Boston back on the map as an economically dynamic city, able to compete with all of the development taking place in the suburbs at a time when Boston was perceived to be heading for the grave. The BRA sought to make Boston a regional capital for New England, built around a service economy with finance, insurance, and corporate jobs. Government Center attracted a lot of federal funding for a new city hall, a federal building, state and county offices, and courthouses. The concept was “we’re not getting business elites to invest downtown, so let’s use federal funding to jumpstart investment.” Public investment as leverage worked.
Although Logue promised not to do major clearance, Government Center was an important exception. He identified an area he thought would be uncontroversial, Scollay Square, which was Boston’s red light district. Most people were glad to see it go at the time, although there was nostalgia among some locals for it after the project was all said and done. The new City Hall was designed through a competition which attracted many architects and led to a landmark 20th century building. Some of the other buildings were successful designs, some were not. But the concentration of government buildings downtown functioned as a lure to private capital and jobs and proved an important turning point for the city. Upwards of 25,000 people would soon be employed in the area of Government Center where only 6,000 had worked when Logue arrived.
The BRA made sure not to compete with the private sector. Government Center’s buildings were designed without retail or cafeteria space so that all these government workers would have to leave their offices and patronize local businesses. Extending the lessons of New Haven, Logue also learned to respect and rehab old buildings. Quincy Market, although it opened under the next mayor, was really a product of Collins and Logue’s efforts. The same is true of other historic buildings around Government center, such as the Sears Crescent and the Sears Block historic buildings. Pressure from preservationists encouraged this shift in urban development but Logue came to like the idea of integrating the new and historic to create a collage that still characterizes Boston’s built environment today.
The BRA identified several neighborhoods; most notably Washington Park and Madison Park in Roxbury, Charlestown—which had the most notorious resistance to BRA—and the South End, for new life and new affordable housing. The BRA met more controversy with these neighborhood projects than downtown. Sometimes urban renewal did create dislocations that were understandably difficult for people and Logue is to be faulted for not fully appreciating that. But at other times Logue was trying to introduce the concept of mixed income communities that continued to matter to him throughout his career. What we often miss, however, in just seeing confrontation between the BRA and neighborhood residents is that the BRAs efforts led to much more negotiation between the city and its neighborhoods than we recognize.
Communities learned that they could get more from the BRA if they pushed back. So Charlestown got less clearance and more housing as a result of playing hard ball. This experience would teach neighborhoods how to mobilize to demand affordable housing after the urban renewal era ended. This an important contrast to efforts later in the 20th century and into the 21st when private developers often take the initiative rather than the city. With the BRA, at least these were public projects and as a result, there was a public process of negotiation.
Why did Logue leave Boston?
According to the story Logue often told, Collins announced in the winter of 1967 that he wouldn’t run again for Mayor and Logue said, “You can’t do that! I’m not done yet!” to which Collins replied, “Well, I’m done. Maybe you should run.” But there ended up being a big field of candidates that year. A lot of the votes for a pro-development, future-oriented vision of Boston ended up being divided among a variety of candidates. They were all running against Louise Day Hicks, the champion of segregated schools, who represented the old Irish democratic neighborhoods, and there was great concern about being able to defeat her. So the more progressive votes ended up crystallizing around Kevin White in the September primary, who did beat Hicks in the November run-off election. Who knows what would have happened if she didn’t run. Logue might have had more of a chance.
Logue then went through a period of figuring out what he should do next. He was invited to be a visiting professor at Boston University and soon after he arrived he got a call at his office from Governor Nelson Rockefeller. He was calling Logue to invite him down to New York to take a look at some legislation he was preparing to create a powerful agency called the New York Urban Development Corporation to build large amounts of subsidized housing in New York State. Logue went and was impressed, but he told Rockefeller that the legislation had basic flaws, that the UDC needed the power to override local zoning and building codes. He told Rockefeller, ‘You got a great bill here, but it’ll never work.”
Rockefeller listened to Logue’s advice and presented the legislation for the UDC to the New York State legislature in Albany. It met a lot of resistance from critics who felt like it would undermine the home rule and self-determination of local communities. Rockefeller persisted, though, and used Martin Luther King’s assassination to help get the UDC passed. Rockefeller argued, “Here’s a chance to create a monument to King that’s more than just a statue, something that will do justice to his legacy.” With that challenge and a lot of arm twisting, Rockefeller got the UDC through the legislature, but with a lot grumbling and a lot of people hoping that it would fall on its face.
Lyndon Johnson was already cutting funding of federal programs because of the Vietnam War deficits in ‘68 and that frustrated Logue. Although he was a progressive democrat who believed in a strong national government, he decided to take a chance with Rockefeller’s state-level program since he didn’t see enough of a federal commitment to deal with the country’s enormous housing crisis.
What made the UDC so special in the postwar history of urban renewal?
Rockefeller was a liberal Republican who faced a terrible housing shortage but under New York State law was obligated to submit bond issues to the voters in order to fund housing. These bond issues were repeatedly defeated. Rockefeller was frustrated and sought a way around these voter approvals, so he came up with this idea of a semi-independent superagency that could operate despite the objections of voters and a conservative state legislature.
The UDC was set up with great hope that it could make a significant difference. It did so from ‘68-’74, building an enormous amount of housing, more than 33,000 units; developed three new towns; and intentionally created mixed income housing and communities across the state. It had a lot of success but made a lot of enemies along the way.
It faced the most opposition in Westchester, right?
Yes. “Fair Share Housing.” One of the things Logue had been committed to from New Haven to Boston to the UDC was to coming up with metropolitan solutions to urban problems. He saw cities’ problems being worsened by suburbanization, the exit of people and resources. He felt the only real solution to creating more equity and addressing the deep problems of low income urban residents was to find housing options for them outside of the city. The state-level UDC gave Logue a unique opportunity to implement that idea. From practically day one as president of the UDC, Logue talked about creating a fair share housing program. So he finally implemented it, coming up with plan for Westchester County—a very wealthy suburban area—for symbolic reasons, but also because it had a lot of land available. Nine towns were selected to receive only 100 units of housing in each and the people who qualified to live in them would be city workers, employees of the school district, and people employed by local businesses. Logue and the UDC considered this a moderate proposal that would eliminate fears that poor minorities from Harlem or the Bronx would be “invading” these towns. But once word got out about the plan it was basically civil war in these communities.
Rockefeller backed the plan but once the shit hit the fan, he called for a six-month moratorium to let things cool down. Eventually, the governor felt he had no choice but to make a deal with the state legislature which had gained strength from opponents of the nine town plan. The result was a change in the UDC’s powers so it could no longer override zoning in New York’s towns and villages, although it retained that authority in cities. That was the beginning of the end for the UDC. Logue was soundly defeated in his efforts to integrate parochial, well-off communities and take low-income people out of poor neighborhoods with inadequate housing and facilities.
Nixon’s moratorium on all HUD spending in 1973 was devastating and also helped bring down the UDC. Despite the attention given to the UDC’s use of alternative sources of state funding and revenue from bond sales, it was actually still very dependent on federal funding. And then when Rockefeller resigned as governor a year before his term ended, the UDC lost its great protector and was more subject to a state legislature that continued to try to dismantle the UDC’s power. And then the financial situation worsened across the state and the country, sending interest rates skyrocketing and making it hard for the UDC to sell bonds and to borrow.
Some of the strategies Logue implemented at the UDC were efforts to address longstanding problems with urban renewal. For example, urban renewal projects often were criticized for taking forever to complete. So when Logue got to New York, he sought ways to address that and implemented what he called fast-tracking, getting projects started before they were 100 percent funded and ready to go. When Nixon implemented a moratorium on all federal spending on housing, many of the UDC’s projects were left high and dry. But the biggest problem underlying the UDC’s failure was its flawed conception from the start.
The UDC was an effort to solve a social problem with the resources of the private market. Bankers, however, are looking to make a profit, not to be socially responsible. There’s a deep seated contradiction there, so that when other conditions came to pass, the whole operation collapsed. Logue blamed the bankers for the UDC’s demise. He also blamed Nixon, conservatives, and racists, but he mostly blamed bankers for pulling the rug out from the UDC. When Malcolm Wilson, Rockefeller’s lieutenant governor who replaced him as governor that last year, lost the 1974 election to Democrat Hugh Carey, the UDC was finished. Carey inherited a difficult financial situation in New York and targeted the UDC as the symbol of all that had gone wrong. When it became clear that the UDC would default on bond payments, Carey asked for Logue’s resignation and called for a Moreland Act Commission to investigate the UDC.
UDC critics thought they could catch Logue on corruption charges but he came out personally clean. Logue then wandered in the wilderness of consulting from 1975 to 1978, when he finally got his last major job as president of the South Bronx Development Organization.
How did his time building homes in the South Bronx compare?
It was night and day from the UDC. This was a very small job in comparison. Logue was appointed by Mayor Ed Koch with hopes that President Carter’s visit to the Bronx would lead to more federal funding to rebuild a devastated part of New York City. But money at the level hoped for never came through. Under Carter and particularly with Reagan, urban policy turned towards privatization, decentralization, and removing the federal government from direct involvement. Logue still did some interesting things in the South Bronx, however. Many of his peers thought this job was a serious comedown and humiliation for him but in fact Logue threw himself into it just as he had everywhere else.
Facing what was probably the most severe urban deprivation that he had ever encountered, he developed several industrial parks to attract much needed jobs. But the most important work he did there was Charlotte Gardens, a residential project with 100 single-family suburban style homes trucked in from a factory in Pennsylvania—creating a new suburban community in a burnt out area of the South Bronx. This project shocked peers who considered Logue as someone who cared deeply about quality architecture. But once again, Logue was being creative, changing, and experimenting. He decided that attracting homeowners, people deeply investment in a neighborhood, would be the best strategy to turn around the South Bronx. Logue built housing aimed at lower middle class policeman, fireman, and teachers who wanted to own their own single-family homes. A lot of them were first and second generation immigrants for whom home ownership was a goal. He worked hand in hand with local community development corporations which was the wave of the future as the federal government stepped out of the process.
Logue was adjusting his strategies to a Reagan era where private market solutions, such as making mortgage money available to people with low incomes, were the name of the game. But working in the South Bronx in the Reagan era was very difficult and after several years commuting to Boston where his wife had moved to take a new job, Logue left, once Charlotte Gardens was completed in 1985. From then until his death in 2000 Logue worked as a consultant on projects, taught at MIT, and eventually retired to Martha’s Vineyard. He wanted to write a book about his career, which he titled ‘Tales of a City Builder’ but Logue was more a man of action than reflection. He only managed to draft one chapter on Boston, so I guess I’m writing it instead! My book will surely be different from what he would have written but at least his story will get told.
He seemed like a Robert Moses-type figure, except committed to affordable housing.
You’re not far off. But I’d go further than affordable housing. Logue had things in common with Moses. He believed in infrastructural solutions and the importance of building but he was much more committed to social change than Moses was. More progressive. He believed in creating socially mixed communities, for example. And he hated public housing. Logue had a vision for a much more equitable America.
For Moses, the building was the end. For Logue, building was the means, not the end. He saw Roosevelt Island [a UDC project in New York City] as a model community with different races and income levels living together, sharing good schools. Logue always cared about education and he also understood that access to jobs was most important thing for turning lives around. That’s wasn’t Moses.
Urbanists today often frame postwar urbanism as a Jane Jacobs vs Robert Moses battle of ideas so what are they missing in the story without Ed Logue?
Logue was not as much of a symbol as Moses or Jacobs have become, certainly. He operated with more gray than the black and white opposing approaches represented by Jacobs and Moses.
Ironically, Logue learned a lot from Jacobs although they became bitter enemies. But he thought Jacobs missed the point when she talked about getting big planners out of the process and letting neighborhoods develop organically. He feared that meant that the market would dictate their fate whereas he believed you needed the federal government involved in order to keep things fair. He thought Jacobs let middle class people off the hook by encouraging them to escape into their own separate neighborhoods or increasingly to suburbs, not asking that they take more responsibility for the fate of the cities that had created their wealth.
Highway building remained a blindspot for Logue, though. He had advocated for building the connector in New Haven, and in Boston he thought the Southwest Expressway and Inner Belt were critical to keeping Boston downtown vital. That project was defeated after he left, but he continued to have faith in a strategy that we’ve learned too often destroys neighborhoods and allows people to abandon cities as much as commit to them. So there was both vision and blindness in Ed Logue.
Urban renewal shouldn’t be viewed in an ahistorical, black and white way, as a consistent disaster over a quarter century. I don’t want to be an apologist for everything Logue did but we miss the subtlety of history when we look back at someone like Logue with a one-dimensional view. We particularly miss the progressive aspects of Logue and his colleagues when we do that, such as their insistence that the federal government had a crucial role to play, even a responsibility, in funding and addressing urban problems.
Can someone like Logue appear again in today's cities?
It depends on what that means. Logue was resourceful. If he were alive today I have no doubt he’d be trying to figure out how to operate within the limitations that currently exist.
He’d also be in despair seeing how far we’ve come from the social democratic vision of government responsibility for housing and cities that inspired him. Since Nixon, we’ve really been in an era of increasing dependence on private market solutions rather than investing government money directly. Developers often set the agenda for what gets built. We have today very limited remains of public housing when there’s still a huge demand for it. There are Section 8 vouchers, but demand for them among renters way outstrips supply and a lot of landlords are unwilling to take vouchers. The greatest source of funding for affordable housing today depends on low-income tax credits but they too are unreliable. There’s a lot of fear now that tax cuts under Trump will lessen demand by corporations for the tax credits on which affordable housing projects depend.
We’re expecting the private market to be responsive when it often isn’t. I think it’s more important than ever to remind people that there was once another route.