Renewal of Urban Renewal

As I listen and read the opposition to redeveloping Chalmers, I get a horrible feeling of dread as if I’d heard this all before and I’m merely a witness to a repeat of history. I think my instincts are right in that I’m watching the rebirth of the utterly failed policy of Urban Renewal. Decide for yourself after you read the section below on the Urban Renewal from the City Master Plan here. And I assure you that many of the voices now cheering for demolition cheered just as loudly for the urban renewal and the devastation of downtown.

Here is the salient section:

According to the “Urban Renewal Plan” portion of that document, “In order to make the most effective use of Amsterdam’s resources, a program of self-help through urban renewal is proposed. Such  a program will enable the city to combat blight, remove substandard and obsolete structures and rebuild with more suitable and valuable facilities.” The Urban Renewal Plan designated a huge area – from Tryon Street on the west to Degraff Street on the east, and south of Division Streets or Guy Park Avenue and the Green Hill Cemetery, including all of downtown – for “redevelopment.” According to the plan, “Redevelopment consists of clearing those areas in which the housing is too dilapidated to be repaired.


Most other cities in America suffered a similar fate during the last half-century. However, Amsterdam is somewhat unique in terms of the extreme degree to which the downtown was razed. Only two blocks of real urban fabric remain. The original street and block system has been supplanted by a highway arterial system that is designed solely for the purpose of moving cars through this area. An inward facing suburban-style mall sits in the middle of what used to be East Main Street. The mall’s brief success as a retail and entertainment center quickly disappeared after it opened. Today it is only partially occupied, and it
survives as a home for various social service and health related organizations. Neighborhoods surrounding the former center of the City are in critical condition.

If you doubt my analysis or the existence of urban renewal ideology, I refer you to this comment by a supporter of the demolition of Chalmers:

All Mr. Kaufman is doing is sucking some money out of the government to build some new section 8 housing that will fit right in to the run down mess it is part of. tear that place down and build a nice park on the river and an outlet store strip mall, something that will give people a reason to get off the thruway at exit 25, and actaully think that amsterdam is a nice place instead of a corpse of a once thriving city.

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