Limits Of Urban Renewal In Greater St. Louis
The redevelopment and urban renewal programs avoided neighborhoods that were declining immensely and were unsuccessful in curbing the decline of Central St. Louis. This failure may have resulted from a combination of bad policy, shallow resources and immense challenges. Initially, the city council was concerned about the substandard living conditions, an aspect that changed after the war with economic development becoming more of a priority than residential renewal, and focus being placed on the central business district rather than the troubled neighborhoods. However, St. Louis was not alone in this failure as urban renewal efforts in other American cities had similar results. The indefinable nature of the solution was a reflection of the elusive nature of the problem and a common set of conditions including fragmented governance, deindustrialization and limited resources. Of particular note is the fact that the term “blight” did not have a universal definition. Indeed, the local efforts for addressing urban conditions was heavily dependent on threats to moral order, safety and health that animated the powers of local police, considering that the only significant legal footing for urban reform was built on police power. After the war, the definition and determination of blighted areas was left to state governments thereby allowing local governments and redevelopment corporations to determine what blight meant. In legal terms, the most immense challenge revolved around the reconciliation of the definition of the term with the predisposing assumption that redevelopment served public interest, and the eminent domain powers that it enabled. The controversy increased in instances where these programs benefited certain individuals. However, the courts stated that the fact that these programs benefited some individuals more than others did not deprive them of their public character.
While the ambiguity in definition of “blight” was an impediment, redevelopment interests and local municipals appreciated its ambiguity as the definition was at their discretion. The problem with the local discretion revolved around the fact that the designation usually took place on proposal-by-proposal basis, in which case investment would be diverted from the most dismal urban conditions since private interests were looking for the “appropriate kind of blight”. As much as finding blight was considerably the discretion of local officials, they required a credible case that a redevelopment area deserved public attention or subsidy. The feat was accomplished through expanding the redevelopment area as it was easier to find blighted areas and use the excuse of “public interest” so as to counter the affected property owners’ objections. Of particular note, however, is the fact that the urban development policy was still distracted by the concerns of business leaders, realtors and developers that represented the CBD. Business interests often view redevelopment policies with skepticism or contempt due to the threats to public domain. Redevelopment efforts often started with the warehousing of dislocate residents of high-density public housing, which often ran into problems as the city inflated its capacity to assist individuals that were losing their homes. This resulted in the association of urban renewal programs with Negro removal.
It is imperative that further research is done to explore the reasons as to why the redevelopment and rebuilding efforts were slower propositions even when it was considerably easy to obtain the federal money for clearance. In addition, what patterns did these redevelopment and rebuilding efforts or programs follow and what was the influence of race in the particular patterns exhibited by the redevelopment patterns.