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Washington University Journal of Law & Policy


CDC, community development corporation, old neighborhood, urban village, housing project, slum, social policy, Housing Act of 1949


In his recounting of the suburban migration from America's cities, journalist and broadcaster Ray Suarez laments the loss of the "old neighborhood". He extols its virtues while explaining its decline. Suarez's nostalgic examples recall the virtues of the extended family kinship, neighborliness, and other features of the "urban village." These are often associated with those urban neighborhoods populated by recent immigratns. These urban villages were thought to have peaked in the decades between the American Civil War and the onset of the First World War, when many U.S. cities industrialized and grew very rapidly. However, a continuing movement of migrants from the southern United States, Puerto RIco, and during the past few decades from around the globe has meant the survival of the urban village in many cities. Like their earlier predecessors, these neighborhoods are often characterized by high rates of poverty and substandard social conditions.

In contrast to the old urban neighborhoods populated by the new immigratns, many neighborhoods in the economically and socially distressed areas of U.S. cities have been largely depopulated and have abnormally high rates of abandonment and social problems. These neighborhoods are often highly segregated by race and ethnicity and have high concentrations of poverty. Old urban neighborhoods have been a focus of social policy for the past fifty years. The passage of the Housing Act of 1949 heralded a federal commitment, at least on a limited basis, to provide the public housing for the poor and decent neighborhoods for those living in the slums through urban redevelopment, later renamed urban renewal.

In the ensuing five decades, various federal policies and programs have been inaugerated, some later to be either reformed or dismantled, to address the problems presented by these older, urban neighborhoods and their residents. The dilemna confronting policymakers has been that neglect promises even worse problems, the worst of which have been urban riots triggered by festering social ills. On the other hand, no past active approach has yet solved these problems. After briefly reviewing major federal initiatives, I will focus on the emergence, evolution, and experience of community deveopment coroporations (CDCs) based in these neighborhoods.