On the other hand, urban renewal — and public housing in particular — started to seem not so much a bulwark in the Cold War, but a liability. What urban renewal seemed to be supplying were not spaces that resonated with ideas of American freedom but places that felt authoritarian, places that felt regimented, places that felt more like what we imagined were the landscapes of a more authoritarian state — like those we were supposed to be fighting in the Cold War.

WHAT SORT OF PARALLELS DO YOU SEE BETWEEN THE NEW YORK EXPERIENCE AND THAT OF SMALLER CITIES LIKE PROVIDENCE? One thing that happened here was that, particularly on the side of College Hill down Benefit Street and going down into Fox Point, the explicit plans for bulldozing the neighborhood were turned back. And what ended up changing the neighborhood was historic preservation of that area. A plan that was [meant] to keep the old historic fabric of the neighborhood — seeming to be anti-urban renewal — actually ended up being the impetus for changing the neighborhood just as much, because it ushered in a process of gentrification that displaced the working-class Portuguese and Cape Verdean neighborhoods there.

WHAT SHOULD A 21ST-CENTURY RENEWAL OF PROVIDENCE LOOK LIKE? I think one of the things that Providence has going for it is a dense and connected and usable cityscape. And if we’ve learned anything from the long history of urban renewal — you don’t need to get rid of that. You don’t need to pave over and destroy an old, dense streetscape to save the city. In fact, that’s likely to kill it.

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