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URBAN RENEWAL

People in America have a long history of racially coding their words and actions. When urban renewal was introduced to American citizens, a lot of positive rhetoric and fear-based language was used to convince them that cleaning up "the slums" of cities was necessary for growth and "revitalization." Through the decades of the 20th century, the rhetoric of those in power evolved to more easily enforce racism without directly stating their true intentions.

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20th CENTURY OKC

Rock Island Railroad Depot 1930
Rock Island Railroad Depot 1930

Image from The Z. P. Meyers/Barney Hillerman Photographic Collection, found at okhistory.org.

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Beverly's Chicken in the Rough Grill
Beverly's Chicken in the Rough Grill

Beverly's and Colcord. Image from The Z. P. Meyers/Barney Hillerman Photographic Collection, found at okhistory.org.

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Broadway Ave, Downtown OKC 1947
Broadway Ave, Downtown OKC 1947

Image from Oklahoma Historical Society.

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Rock Island Railroad Depot 1930
Rock Island Railroad Depot 1930

Image from The Z. P. Meyers/Barney Hillerman Photographic Collection, found at okhistory.org.

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Data on race and displacements were only recorded from 1955-1966, meaning the number of displaced citizens is  larger than what is seen.

OKLAHOMA CITY

& URBAN RENEWAL

Deep Deuce Before Urban Renewal

Downtown BEFORe urban renewal

-1954-

Deep Deuce After Urban Renewal

Downtown AFTER urban renewal

-2014-

OKC Urban Renewal Proj

ects

Daily Oklahoman

June 12, 1960

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urban renewal cartoon action now prevent

uNIVERSITY MEDICAL CENTER

1965-1974

Federal Funding:

$11,648,652

John F Kennedy project

Central Bus Dist No 1a Project

1966-1974

Federal Funding:

$20,381,398

1967-1974

Federal Funding:

$27,301,117

Displaced 713 families

90% of displaced citizens were

people of color

University of Oklahoma University Research Park

Once part of the Northeast side of OKC, the University of Oklahoma bulldozed hundreds of homes by the 1960's with urban renewal funding to create the university medical center. The area has since become the University Research Park with various medical buildings and the OU Health Sciences Center.

University Research Park
University Research Park

Image from www.synaptivemedical.com.

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Image from urp.ouhsc.edu.

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OU Health Sciences Center
OU Health Sciences Center

Image from www.greateroklahomacity.com.

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University Research Park
University Research Park

Image from www.synaptivemedical.com.

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Adam Payne & Alyson Greiner

"The transformation of Deep Deuce goes far beyond that which is visible on
the landscape. It likewise provides an instructive example to geographers and
others of the potential pitfalls associated with trying to discern, only by reading
the extant landscape, the nature of the forces that produced it. Since the initial
federal approval in 1976 to construct I-235, the remaking of Deep Deuce has
been underway for more than forty years—a remarkably long time. This process has involved a complicated series of events linking local, state, and federal scales. It has also been shaped by approaches to urban planning and urban management that reflect the enduring influence of urban renewal and gentrification on the functioning and form of urban places. For this reason, it is not adequate to explain the transformation of Deep Deuce as simply an example of the consequences of urban renewal. Nor is it adequate to attempt to explain Deep Deuce as solely an example of gentrification. These two processes have been intricately woven together, which necessitates a consideration of both."

Racism through segregation and urban change was accomplished on multiple levels. The racist actions start at the local, state, and federal level which has a lot of power and influence. The courts and law enforcement aid in enforcing racist policies and laws. The news and other forms of media erase the truth and use language that subtly or directly encourages racist beliefs. On a smaller level, the racist attitudes, internalized beliefs, and day-to-day actions of the overall White community help reinforce racist behavior in a less official manner. All of these groups share and express the power to uphold racism on a daily basis.

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TOOLS OF SEGREGATION

BLOCKBUSTING

Tactic of housing industry and housing administration to instill fear in White residents that their neighborhood will soon be "invaded" by African American people. This motivated home owners to sell their house at a lower cost, allowing real estate agents to then make a larger profit when reselling the property.

EMINENT DOMAIN

The government's ability to take private property for public use in exchange for a minimum compensation. This was used to remove 713 families in Oklahoma City for the university medical center project, and to remove homes for the federal highway project.

Housing Act of 1949

Funded segregated high-rise projects. The drive to enforce segregation in public housing left a lot of African American people without appropriate housing assistance. White communities rejected public housing projects from entering their areas, and large concentrations of these buildings were placed in communities of color, especially low-income African American neighborhoods.

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REDLINING

Created and used by The Home Owners' Loan Corporation (HOLC) from 1933-1977

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Deep Deuce

Red Zone

"Federal housing policy simply blocked African Americans from accessing real estate capital, leading to the creation of segregated mass suburbia and, neighborhood by neighborhood, opened residents to opportunity and wealth accumulation or closed citizens off from the American dream."

- Mapping Inequality Project

OKC Redlining Map.jpg

The zones that appear black in this map are designated yellow zones

The name comes from red lines drawn on maps to zone areas of a city as a low or high risk for mortgage lending. African American neighborhoods were automatically placed in the red zone with no consideration for the condition of the neighborhood.

The housing industry and mortgage lenders used coded language through these maps to map out areas with large Black populations. By zoning non-white neighborhoods as hazardous, lenders were able to deny loans to African American people. While Black people couldn't live in White neighborhoods, they now, also couldn't get loans for houses in non-White areas.

"The maps had a huge impact and put the federal government on record as judging that African Americans, simply because of their race, were poor risks."

GREEN = A, Best, lowest lending risk

BLUE = B, Still Desirable

YELLOW = C, Definitely Declining

RED = D, Hazardous, biggest lending risk

blight slums hazardous risk invasion ghetto 

"Slum clearance, however, had great political appeal. The notion that the inner-city environment trapped the poor evoked a sympathetic response across the political spectrum. To rally support for a national public housing program, public housing advocates inveighed against the evils of slums and promised that good public housing would eliminate them. 'It may have been the wrong technique,' one leading public houser wrote to Bauer afterward, 'but it did get housing started. I wonder where we’d be today if we had not scared (the hell) out of people about conditions in the slums, and would have just talked about beautiful little cottages with white picket fences around them' (Bohn 1941)."

- Alexander von Hoffman

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A 1963 article in the Lawton Constitution (Oklahoma Newspaper) features an interview with Raymond Rebsamen, the president of the Arkansas Urban Progress Association, who states, “urban renewal is good for business and good for any citizen in any city that undertakes the Urban Renewal Program.” This section about the city shows how business-focused individuals draw meaning and value in a city from its economic standing. Stating that downtowns are “dying” and must “rebuild to survive,” creates rigid binaries where the presence of poor neighborhoods equals death and despair while urban renewal equals happy, quality life and growth. The language continues this narrative with words like “let us use urban renewal to our best advantage and save what we have,” and “if Urban Renewal is good business and is good FOR business, then it’s good for YOUR business and YOUR city.” This article fails to mention race or displacement once. The affected communities are completely erased from the narrative of urban renewal and the program is justified through language that paints the government and businesses as saviors of dying cities and “slums.” It solely focuses on the economic advantages of urban renewal, implying the economy is the most valuable aspect of a city. Rebsamen states in the article, “Cities are more than places—they are part of the working capital of our economy.”

 

In America, the economy is often seen as the heartbeat of a city, preventing people from seeing and treating communities within it as more valuable than the buildings they live/work in and the profits they produce. This is easier to do when African American people have been dehumanized since the start of American slavery. Post-Civil War, African American communities had to depend more on each other because they were excluded from opportunities, money, and equality. This made their communities even stronger and more unified because they had to depend on each other's support to survive, as well as needed each other to further the fight for equality. The urban renewal narrative convinced the country that there was no value in the powerful ecosystems of the communities they destroyed because of the condition of the places around them. The overall narrative also failed to mention the racist role those in power played to create the conditions that caused slum-like conditions that they now state they need to save the people from. Underneath all of the layers of highly intentional language used in marketing urban renewal was the driving motivation to further segregation and destroy the progress African American citizens were making toward equality, financial independence, and success.

Lawton Constitution

1963

UR Article Screenshot goes with body con

community home beloved connected creative

Mindy Thompson Fullilove's book, Root Shock, breaks down how urban renewal was traumatic and destructive for many communities of color. Communities like Deep Deuce were thriving and unique. Communities make up an emotional ecosystem which is unique to the individuals that engage with the external environment around them and connect with each other. Additionally, because of the adversity African American people faced at that time, community life was even more important and connected to aid in each other's survival.

The actions of the government prove to be intentional in trying to dismantle these communities so that they cannot help each other succeed. The government removed over a million people from their homes and communities around the country and made no effort to help them find new places to live while also actively limiting their opportunities to move other places through segregation laws, racial covenants, redlining, and other tactics.

Calculated rhetoric convinced American people that urban renewal was positive and necessary. By calling Black neighborhoods "slums," and "blight," they distracted from the fact that valuable humans and communities existed in these spaces deemed blighted. Because the government had so successfully racially isolated Black people from White people, they were able to tell stories that caused fear in White communities.

SOREETA HINDS

OKC BUSINESS OWNER

Why do you think segregation is still so prevalent here?

 

"I think a lot of that, to me, it comes from the fear of the unknown. Just like, "oh my gosh, I don't know what it would be like to live next to a Black person." You know, but it's funny to me, growing up, me and my sister, we we're like the first Black home that a lot of people had been to. Which was still weird to me. They would come into my house like, "oh, it's normal." What did you think it was going to be?"

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When you dehumanize a population of people by telling a story that they are inferior, dangerous, a hazard, a risk, etc., you end up with violence. You end up with the Tulsa Race Massacre where an entire, thriving community was destroyed in an instant...because of a story.

KRYSTLE ROBINSON-HERSHEY

OKC BUSINESS OWNER

"The schools [in the Eastside of OKC] are being so poorly financed and don't have textbooks. There are a lot of holes in the system. And so, that all by itself is how you suffocate a community. And once you suffocate a community, and you make it where they can't breathe, they can't live well, there's no grocery store—then nobody lives there, and it makes an open market for investors. Which is just unfortunate. If people were just given more opportunity to shop, buy, and build their neighborhoods, they would. But you can't strip all the resources from an area."

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