Saving America’s Cities: Ed Logue and the Struggle to Renew Urban America in the Suburban Age, by Lizabeth Cohen, New York, Farrar, Straus, and Giroux, 2019
Reviewed by: Dennis E. Gale, Stanford University
Readers familiar with the career of New York’s Robert Moses will discover a decidedly dissimilar story in this biography of Ed Logue. Logue, who died in 2000, was once one of the most celebrated public sector city builders in America. Cohen’s biography divides his career into three major parts: New Haven in the 1950s, Boston in the 1960s, and New York State in the late 1960s and early 1970s. Among the noteworthy strands throughout the book are: Logue’s ability to forge constructive relations (albeit sometimes butting heads) with mayors Richard Lee and John Collins, and governor Nelson Rockefeller; his occasionally contentious interactions with neighborhood groups; his mastery of federal funding mechanisms; his unparalleled work ethic; his penchant for micro-management; and his prowess in maintaining synoptic mastery over a complex web of individual renewal projects. All are explored with Cohen’s meticulous attention to nuance and detail.
When Logue began his city-building career in the early 1950s, federal authorities were transitioning from the original Urban Redevelopment program to its successor, Urban Renewal. Redevelopment’s tabula rasa strategy had required the demolition and clearance of “slums” and the complete rebuilding of downtowns and neighborhoods. Renewal, however, permitted a mixture of redevelopment and the reuse of buildings through structural rehabilitation. Unlike his peers in many cities, Logue took advantage of the new flexibility — moderately so in New Haven and aggressively so in Boston. Rehabilitation helped defuse resistance from groups dedicated to conserving neighborhood character and morphology, as well as architectural integrity. Predictably, however, Renewal could spur gentrification as middle-class newcomers renovated housing in or near designated project areas. Although Logue sought affordable housing and mixed racial and income neighborhood profiles, Renewal often set in motion an arbitrage frenzy benefitting some residents and displacing others. Cohen’s well-researched and deftly written character study — long overdue — covers these and many other issues of interest to urbanists.
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