Lizabeth Cohen is the Howard Mumford Jones Professor of American Studies in the History Department at Harvard University.
Ed Logue was a powerful agent of urban renewal in New Haven, Boston, and New York City. But his plan to build low-income housing in suburbia came to nought.
Edward J. Logue (1921-2000) was a city administrator who led major urban-renewal projects on the East Coast from the 1950s into the 1980s, combining Robert Moses-like ambition with a deep commitment to progressive New Deal values. He oversaw the postwar redevelopment of New Haven’s ailing downtown and then moved on to Boston, where he built Government Center in what had been Scollay Square, and conceived the restoration of Fanueil Hall-Quincy Market.
From 1968 to 1975, Logue led the New York State Urban Development Corporation, which was endowed with strong powers such as the ability to override local zoning. The development of New York City’s Roosevelt Island was the most significant project of Logue’s UDC. But it also tried, and failed, to integrate the suburbs with affordable housing.
Below is an excerpt from Lizabeth Cohen’s new book Saving America’s Cities: Ed Logue and the Struggle to Renew Urban America in the Suburban Age, on the UDC’s doomed “Nine Towns” plan for Westchester County, New York.—CityLab editors
Logue began hatching plans for the Urban Development Corporation to build affordable housing in suburban communities very soon after he became its president. Only months into the job in fall 1968, he delivered a characteristically blunt message to a national audience of housing and redevelopment officials, provocatively targeting by name—for impact—one of the most elite communities in greater New York. “In the enlightened state of New York,” he promised, “New York City is going to be able to count on the services of the state development corporation in rehousing some of its low-income families in Scarsdale.”
In the same speech, Logue left no ambiguity that he meant to provide housing not only for the economically disadvantaged, but for racial minorities as well. “We have to face directly, in any way we can, the proposition that until the nation decides that low-income black people can have a place to live that they can afford, a place to send their children to school, outside Cleveland, outside Boston, we are just kidding ourselves.”
Fearing the hardening of racial lines on the parts of whites as well as blacks, who were increasingly attracted to Black Power and community control in place of integration, Logue called for urgent action. “Each year that goes by makes residential integration more difficult,” he warned in 1968. Logue took advantage of every opportunity to make this point, particularly with white audiences. For example, he titled his commencement address at Smith College “Fair Sharing—or Why Don’t We Do Something About It,” and asked the overwhelmingly white assembly if they were doing their “fair share” as suburban residents, employers, consumers, and Americans.
Logue’s effort to have the UDC implement changes he considered necessary for the nation proved more difficult to achieve than he ever expected. Although he had anticipated a tough struggle, Logue had hoped that suburban New Yorkers could be convinced to voluntarily embrace a modest housing proposal that integrated their communities economically and racially. After all, similar agendas were very much in the air. The U.S. Commission on Civil Rights called for an end to exclusionary zoning in 1970, and the Republican secretary of Housing and Urban Development, George Romney, had himself initiated an “Open Communities” program to withhold HUD money from suburbs that refused to accept integrated, subsidized low-income housing, though the initiative was short-lived, as Romney’s boss, President Richard Nixon, soon pushed him out of office.
A step toward socially mixed communities
Rather than the enthusiasm or even accommodation that Logue had sought, his suburban housing program incited bitter rancor. The UDC had intentionally kept its approach to what it called Fair Share Housing limited in scope, hoping to minimize its impact on any one community. In each of nine Westchester towns, 100 units of low-income housing were to be built in low-profile structures, allocated according to the usual UDC formula of 70 percent moderate income, 20 percent low income, and 10 percent elderly low income. Priority would be given first to current town residents, then to town and school district staff, and finally to employees of local businesses, with Vietnam veterans favored in all categories.
In its prospectus, the UDC promised that each development would be “marketed . . . with the objective of achieving a minority occupancy of approximately 20 percent,” a goal that the UDC considered conservative. With these stipulations, the UDC intended to put to rest any suburban fears of a large invasion of poor blacks from the Bronx and Harlem. Rather, the agency viewed the plan as a modest contribution to its signature goal of creating socially mixed communities.
But what seemed measured to the UDC was hardly received that way in the nine Westchester towns. It soon became clear that the only way that the Fair Share Housing program could proceed would be if the UDC invoked its controversial power to override town zoning and building codes, which had been authorized for use only when public hearings and informal consultation with local officials failed to advance a socially important project.
Literally from day one, Logue had insisted to [New York Governor Nelson] Rockefeller that the UDC must have this override authority for just such a case as this one, where “the noble tool of zoning has been perverted to maintaining the character of affluent, lily-white suburbs.” To Logue’s mind, exclusionary local zoning laws had proved themselves “among the most powerful forces at work polarizing our society.”
Before the “Nine Towns” controversy, the UDC had usually worked collaboratively with municipal governments, using its eminent domain authority and zoning and building code overrides sparingly—and sometimes even at local request. In its 1972 annual report, for instance, the UDC reported that only in four developments out of a total of 101 had the agency gone forward with construction against the stated opposition of an elected legislative body. Moreover, the creation of subsidiary boards for the large projects of Roosevelt Island, Harlem, and Rochester had helped involve local communities in UDC decision-making, the agency claimed.
Very quickly, the confrontation escalated from debating the virtues of building low-income housing in affluent suburbs to the larger political question of whether the UDC had the right to impose its plan on a community that strongly objected, thereby making the UDC and its superpowers the issue. Echoing objections raised at the UDC’s founding, these Westchester towns and their allies argued that a state agency like the UDC had no standing to violate a community’s home rule or right to self-determination. Logue shot back that “a public statewide charter for urban development [could not] condone a policy which promotes, under other banners, an apartheid residential policy.”
In Logue’s view, the UDC could fulfill its statutory mandate only if it did assert its override power to build low-income multifamily housing in suburban New York, regardless of a community’s local zoning. Robert Litke, a veteran of the neighborhood battles in Boston, explained how important this override power was to the UDC: “To be able to do things that we knew were right without the constraints was just very heady stuff.” It would turn out, however, that insisting on the UDC’s rightful powers was one thing. Exercising them and retaining them in the face of grassroots resistance—this time, not from poor white and black urban residents but from rich and powerful white suburbanites—would prove quite another.
Moving into Westchester
When Logue and his UDC colleagues looked around for the best place to put a Fair Share Housing program in Greater New York, they settled on Westchester for a number of reasons. To start with, the rural character of the central and northern part of the county, where the nine towns selected were located, meant vacant land was available, which was not often the case elsewhere in New York’s densely settled suburbs. Moreover, officials in Westchester, particularly County Executive Edwin D. Michaelian, were seeking more economic development to strengthen the county’s financial base. The UDC could offer assistance in constructing needed water and sewage infrastructure, while also contributing more affordable housing to accommodate the labor required for economic growth.
Although Westchester’s population had grown markedly in recent years, its housing supply remained inadequate and so expensive that even middle-income employees often found it difficult to live near their jobs. And, of course, Westchester was Governor Rockefeller’s home county, where politicians could, they hoped, be counted on for support. Michaelian, for one, was a Rockefeller ally.
Logue consulted with Rockefeller before going public with the plan and happily received his enthusiastic endorsement. “We haven’t bought any land, we’ve just got it under option. If you want to stop it, you can stop it,” Logue recalled saying. To which Rockefeller replied, “Go ahead. What a wonderful idea. It isn’t going to hurt anybody too much.” During that morning briefing the governor even proposed that the Rockefeller family contribute a 20-acre parcel of land from its Pocantico estate for a Fair Share development. “I left elated,” remembered Logue.
But by mid-afternoon, the Rockefeller family’s lawyer called to withdraw the governor’s offer: “Forget it. It’s not Nelson’s property; it’s the whole family’s,” which perhaps should have put Logue on notice of the resistance to come. But at least for a while, it seemed that the Westchester initiative held great promise and even the pos- sibility of further expansion in the future.
By the UDC’s second summer, in 1969, plans were under way. The agency had commissioned the Regional Plan Association to undertake a report on housing needs and opportunities in the New York metropolitan region, which not surprisingly revealed high demand for low-income housing and the availability of land in Westchester. Logue sought out occasions to speak to planners and reformers in Westchester to line up local allies.
Although he asserted that he had “no taste for controversy just for the hell of it,” he was adamant that the state could not tolerate what was widely referred to at the time as “snob zoning”—permitting only single-family homes on large lots. Hoping to squelch criticism of too much top-down UDC control, Logue proposed that the Fair Share Housing program be implemented by a UDC subsidiary “to put into the hands of the residents and leaders of Westchester County the powers of the Corporation and the resources of this Corporation.”
When plans for the Westchester subsidiary stalled, the UDC decided to proceed without it. In January 1972 Logue met with the Westchester Association of Town Supervisors to unveil the Fair Share program of building 100 units, mostly townhouses and garden apartments on wooded tracts of 10 acres or more, in each of nine towns. In June more details were announced, including naming Bedford, Cortlandt, Greenburgh, Harrison, Lewisboro, New Castle, North Castle, Somers, and Yorktown as the selected sites.
The response varied somewhat in each chosen community, but the overall pattern was much the same. Once word of the UDC project got out, it provoked citizen outcry, large and volatile public meetings, and vigorous organization by opponents. In town after town, something like a civil war broke out.
In favor were civic groups like the League of Women Voters; all the black organizations in the county united under the flag of the Coalition of Black Westchester Residents; some local businesses and unions, including the AFL-CIO; and many clergy, inspired by the unequivocal message of the liberal Episcopal bishop Paul Moore, Jr., to his ministers: “You have my total backing in endeavoring to make decent housing possible in Westchester, even when such an effort brings you into conflict with some powerful members of the community or perhaps even the Church.”
The opposition was led by newly formed citizens’ groups—United Towns for Home Rule being the most visible—and the elected officials they put under increasing pressure. Raucous public meetings—a thousand people showed up at one forum, and police were necessary to keep order—were reminiscent of Logue’s Charlestown experiences a decade earlier, despite the dramatic social-class differences between the communities.
Hostile speakers charged the UDC with ignoring the views of local communities and incompetence in selecting sites for the housing. They argued that an influx of new residents would put an undue burden on the local schools and school budgets and on the tax base more generally, given the UDC’s tax abatement. They claimed that this new housing would change the physical character of their semirural towns and, though rarely said explicitly, their class and racial character as well. Anything that smacked of “urban,” starting with the Urban Development Corporation, was deemed a dangerous threat.
By no coincidence, the effort to emphasize the historical heritage of Bedford by creating a historic district—a move long opposed by residents resistant to restrictions on their property rights—now sailed through with the mission to “maintain the character of the historic district” and “regulate construction of new buildings.” It was clear that many ardent opponents feared that the UDC’s Fair Share Housing was the opening crack in the zoning wall that would lead to greater development and diversity. Observing the defiance as a young reporter for the New York Times, Linda Greenhouse concluded that Logue had “pushed a button they didn’t know they had.”
Logue acknowledged in the UDC’s annual report in 1972 that “the intensity of the opposition was something to behold … The clamor, the outrage, the anger—and sadly—the hate displayed were disheartening.” Logue was personally targeted with death threats. Once, before an evening hearing, he got a call warning that if he showed up he’d be assassinated. He went nonetheless, bringing the UDC staffers Larry Goldman and Richard Kahan along with him, and sat in a front-row seat, crossing his arms and making himself “just as visible as you could possibly be,” recalled Kahan. “It was like, okay, here I am.”
At one informational meeting called by the UDC, shouts of “Get out, we don’t want you in Bedford” drowned out more reasoned dis- cussion. Another meeting had to be adjourned and rescheduled because of excessive “foot stomping and jeering.” A suspicious fire destroyed a handsome hundred-year-old barn in Bedford that the UDC had recently purchased to convert into a community center for its proposed housing development nearby.
The UDC struggled to keep the debate on a more civil level. It responded to opponents’ concerns about tax shortfalls with reminders that the UDC was making substantial payments in lieu of taxes and with calculations of how state allocations would cover much of the cost of additional students. It also promoted a bill in Albany requiring the state to reimburse communities for any financial losses sustained from a UDC development. Seeking compromise, the UDC conveyed a willingness to reduce the number of units, restrict tenant eligibility to town employees, and investigate alternative sites for the proposed housing. Many spots were in fact poorly located—too far from public transportation, on difficult terrain for building, and in open space—on the only land available for the UDC to buy.
In truth, the UDC had made mistakes, such as not communicating sufficiently with towns before announcing its program and not seeking enough input on housing locations. Logue’s characteristic drive to fast-track likely rushed the consultation process. But a more politic rolling out of Fair Share Housing would not likely have made a difference. In the heat of battle, the UDC was willing to adjust the plan, but not to back down, arguing that doing so would only obligate more cooperative towns to bear a greater share of the burden. In the hallways of the UDC offices, bitter talk often turned to how racial and class prejudices were really at the root of the resistance.
‘He really, really, really wanted to do it’
Many of Logue’s closest confidants urged him to give up the fight. The UDC general counsel Stephen Lefkowitz, who usually wielded great influence with Logue, advised, “There is more than enough to do in the cities.” The prominent psychologist Kenneth Clark—a close friend, a UDC board member, and chair of the board’s Integration Committee—argued against expending political and monetary capital on Fair Share. “They don’t want you … Don’t go!” Clark urged. He had built his academic reputation on exposing the limited opportunity in urban ghettos and was no fan of segregated communities. Nonetheless, he thought the UDC should keep its attention focused on the cities where black people already lived in great numbers and often under inadequate conditions. Harlem leaders, eager for the UDC’s resources, not surprisingly sided with Clark.
The UDC architect Tony Pangaro recalled that despite the chorus admonishing Logue that “it may be morally correct, but teaching people like that a lesson doesn’t really work very well,” Logue was unswayed. “He really, really, really wanted to do it. He thought it was absolutely the right thing.”
The controversy escalated. Opponents brought numerous legal suits. They lobbied elected leaders, including Rockefeller. Although the governor shared Logue’s enthusiasm for more socially integrated communities; valued the Westchester effort as a way of redirecting the UDC’s resources away from New York City, with its current claim on 55 percent of the UDC’s housing starts; and had expressed his support not only privately to Logue but also publicly, he became more concerned as the summer of 1972 wore on.
Reactions were only growing more negative, particularly among Republican officeholders up for election in November. It should be noted, however, that two liberal Democrats running for Congress from Westchester districts— Ogden “Brownie” Reid and Richard Ottinger—were no more supportive. Typical was the town supervisor who said, “It would be political suicide for me in an election year to support UDC openly.” It is not hard to understand why, when anti-UDC supervisors were issuing such nasty statements as “we have some agonizing liberal supervisors in Westchester County who have seen fit to go to bed with the UDC dog and now they’re waking up with fleas.” In this maelstrom, Rockefeller decided he had no choice but to act. In August, he declared a moratorium on Fair Share Housing until January 15, 1973, giving the towns time to come up with their own alternative plans.
During the interlude, the nine communities continued to discuss the issue, and by January 1973 six of them had issued “positive responses” acknowledging at least some need for low-income housing. Ever optimistic, Logue took that as a good sign. He said on January 16 that the UDC would welcome more conversations with towns and was willing to negotiate further on housing location and other complaints.
But pretty soon it became evident that the whole game had changed and the UDC’s ability to carry out its Fair Share Housing plan was being seriously undercut. Almost since its creation, enemies in the New York state legislature had been trying to clip the UDC’s wings and deprive it of its override powers. But whenever such a bill made it through the legislature, the governor would veto it. “Rockefeller would always beat back the effort to take this override out of the law,” Logue later acknowledged in appreciation. “Which is why I loved him, he stood up for me.” In October 1972, some New York state representatives had even tried to push a bill through Congress to deny federal funding to any project lacking local community approval, until the House’s recess put an end to debate.
Now, in the wake of the tsunami of hostility created by the Nine Towns plan, opposition to the UDC’s override grew overwhelming. In June 1973, Rockefeller saw no alternative but to sign a new bill curtailing the UDC’s power to override local zoning in New York State’s villages and towns, while keeping it in its cities. But he offered Logue a deal as compensation: an additional $3 million appropriation to cover the costs of closing down the project and an increase from $1.5 to $2 billion in bonding authority. Logue didn’t blame Rockefeller. “Rockefeller was the last guy to leave that sinking ship, the last guy. And he saw that I got bailed out.”
The meaning of democratic planning
Logue was not happy to have lost the battle against exclusionary zoning in the suburbs. The Boston Globe’s Marty Nolan, now the chief of the paper’s Washington bureau who had watched Logue successfully manage similar uproars in Boston, called it “a stinging defeat.” Indeed, once given permission to ignore the UDC, all nine towns retreated from considering subsidized housing. And the removal of the UDC’s override powers had a domino effect in the state.
It brought an unhappy resolution, for example, to a long-standing battle on Long Island over building subsidized housing in the unincorporated hamlet of Wyandanch, with its overwhelmingly poor, African-American population of 15,000, 68 percent of whom were on public assistance in 1969. The community had begun lobbying the UDC in 1970 to construct urgently needed new housing. By June 1972, designs— by a black architect—were completed for 29 clustered, two-story garden-apartment buildings with 182 units to serve low- and moderate-income tenants.
After the state took away the UDC’s override, more than a thousand Wyandanch residents turned out for a rally and signed a petition urging continued support for the UDC housing, only to watch the Babylon Town Board, which had legal jurisdiction over Wyandanch, reject it two months later, on the suspect basis of its “adverse impact” on the community’s high water table. “The blacks all supported it, 150 percent,” Logue fumed, “and the goddamn white bigots killed it.”
Logue took some solace in the settlement Rockefeller proffered, appreciating the new resources at his disposal. The whole episode, moreover, entered the UDC’s canon of macabre humor when staff members created a satirical book for Logue titled “The Story of ‘The Suburban Destruction Corporation’ (SDC): E. J. Rogue, President, and the Warm and Wonderful World of Westchester.” Large pages featured collages of headlines and illustrations cut out of newspapers and magazines along with text deriding the disaster.
One page carried the headline “Dissatisfaction Guaranteed or Your Zoning Back.” Another showed a photo of a large group of men, women, and children in colonial costumes with the caption “Speaking on behalf of the Bedford Historical Society, Mr. Rogue, we have carefully considered your nine towns program, we have considered the alternatives, we have polled our people and it is our collective opinion that you should respectively stick the whole thing up your ass.”
The Nine Towns controversy raised some of the same questions that had troubled Logue since his earliest days doing urban renewal in New Haven: Who’s in charge, who should have a say, who benefits, and who pays the bill? Once again, Logue found himself contemplating what a democratic process in planning decisions—his much-touted “planning with people”—should really mean. Already skeptical about letting what he considered excessive participatory democracy overshadow professional expertise, his Nine Towns experience only discouraged him further. He wondered anew what form of community consultation might make more possible the kind of social change he judged to be legal and moral.
Logue was not alone in this rumination. Even progressive critics of top-down planning struggled with the conflict between valuing grassroots democratic participation and breaking the seemingly intractable hold of racial segregation. Paul Davidoff, the chief theorist of “advocacy planning” (a movement committed to giving communities, particularly their low-income and minority members, a greater voice), had established the Suburban Action Institute in White Plains, the county seat of Westchester, in 1969. As its executive director, he vigorously battled exclusionary zoning in the courts, his greatest victory in later years being the Mount Laurel decision of the New Jersey Supreme Court requiring all towns to build low- and moderate-income housing. Davidoff applauded the UDC’s efforts in Westchester and followed its struggle closely, convinced that the greater good was being served.
In contrast, an 84-year-old, increasingly reactionary Robert Moses, who appeared in Northern Westchester in the midst of the crisis to receive a distinguished service award from a conservative arts organization, took the opposite view, ironically—given his own past insistence on top-down control—siding with the people against the big planner. He accused Logue of trying “to force projects into the suburbs … No wonder local people are embittered.” And he urged the residents of Northern Westchester to “go slow,” “acquire more parkland,” and if necessary “consider [yourselves] a separate county.”
When it came to Fair Share Housing, Davidoff and Moses endorsed the strategy most consistent with their attitudes toward civil rights, not the mode of decision-making that they had promoted throughout their careers.
Excerpted from Saving America’s Cities: Ed Logue and the Struggle to Renew Urban America in the Suburban Age by Lizabeth Cohen. Published by Farrar, Straus and Giroux, October 1, 2019. © 2019 by Lizabeth Cohen. All rights reserved.