Tuesday, July 28, 2009

Reviewed: Gordon, Mapping Decline: St. Louis and the Fate of the American City

Mapping Decline: St. Louis and the Fate of the American City by Colin Gordon (forthcoming in paperback) will be appealing to legal historians interested in urban history, property, race, and poverty. The book goes beyond traditional histories of urban decline, making effective use of digital mapping techniques. The University of Pennsylvania Press did a beautiful job producing it, including more than seventy-five full color maps.

Mapping Decline was reviewed by Dan Trudeau, Macalester College, for Urban Geography. Trudeau writes:

In Mapping Decline, Colin Gordon chronicles the historic causes and contemporary consequences of the urban crisis in the St. Louis metropolitan area. Students of U.S. urban history will already be familiar with St. Louis’ story. It follows the archetypal narrative of decline in the postwar era: government programs for urban renewal fail to revitalize the central city while public subsidies for development at the urban fringe enable centrifugal forces that strip the urban core of investment, population, and tax revenue. Underlying this transformation is the dual process of White flight to the suburbs and the containment of Blacks in the urban core. Mapping Decline thus follows the path worn by Hirsch (1998) and Sugrue (2005) in their respective examinations of urban crisis in Chicago and Detroit. While Gordon’s explanation is not new, he adds a visual dimension to the narrative by including an extensive battery of maps and figures. Furthermore, Mapping Decline contributes to the empirical urban literature by tracing the trajectory of St. Louis’ decline to the end of
the 20th century.

This political history of St. Louis’ urban crisis unfolds over five chapters, which are organized thematically....Chapter 2 describes the private efforts and public policies that have isolated Blacks in particular neighborhoods of St. Louis that are bereft of private investment. To support this point, this chapter features an especially rich set of maps that show the geographies of restrictive deed covenants, race restrictive practices of realtor associations, redlining designations of the Home Owner’s Loan Corporation, slum clearance, construction of public housing, and patterns of disinvestment by the mortgage lending industry.
The reviewer finds the book's maps "cartographically disappointing," and finds "Sugrue’s (2005) Origins of the Urban Crisis...a more detailed examination of how changes at global and regional levels affected U.S. cities during the postwar era," but concludes that

Gordon has nevertheless prepared an engaging text that should be accessible to a broad audience....Mapping Decline distinguishes itself from other historical accounts of the urban crisis by showing how the deleterious effects of local, state, and federal government policies continue to thwart the recovery of the central city. Toward this end, Gordon presents a convincing case for why the decline of St. Louis is not by any means inevitable. Mapping Decline thus provides an impassioned call to arms to rescue St. Louis and other cities like it.
The rest is here.

1 comment:

ribkaw said...

I am extremely excited about Colin Gordon's Mapping Decline, more than it's contribution to scholarly works on urban cities. I moved to STL in Jan. 06. As a community and economic development practistioner, the level of decay to the North Side, where my husband and I elected to settled, was astounding.

The curiosity of how a major City allowed such decay to happen became an anathema to me. Evenmoreso, I wondered how HUD allowed an entitlement City that receives millions in CDBG funds to get away with such obvious institutional and systemic discriminatory practices.

The puzzle started coming together on May 21, 2009 when a wealthy developer, Paul McKee, introduced a massive so-called redevelopment plan for the North Side. It turns out that Mr. McKee started buying up occupied and vacant properties in 2004, and allowing those properties to deteriorate beyond repair. A series of arsons took place, to McKee's properties or those he wanted, paving the way for brick thieves. Once the brick thieves removed entire backs from properties the City would then demolish them. Today the Pruitt Igo area and throughout Ward 5 resembles more of a rural area than urban, with acres and acres of open fields.

In 2008, McKee's attorney wrote the land assemblage tax credit bill, HB 991, http://www.house.mo.gov/billtracking/bills071/sumpdf/HB0991i.pdfwhich which passed the state legislature. The Bill was tailored specifically to fit McKee's footprint for the North Side. In other words, HB 991 was written and passed for the sole benefit of Paul McKee.

Surely, there must be some legal recourse for the African-American victims of the City of St. Louis and Paul McKee. The institutional and systemic racism that led to the deterioration of the North Side surely warrants the attention of the US Justice Departments Civil Rights Division.

McKee submitted an unprecedented TIF application for $409M which identified an additional 2,400 properties for taking through eminent domain. His plan is targeting African-American churches and their adjacent properties which will result in the churches being totally landlocked with no room for expansion. The depopulation has diluted the African-American voting power as 2 Wards have been redistricted to the majority White South Side.

If there is anyone out there who will listen to the cries of the people and help save our communities from total condemnation, please contact me at rftwilliams@gmail.com

Sincerely,
Romona Taylor Williams