Urban Renewal


"The issues involved in addressing urban renewal projects are hardly new. The underlying challenge is to approach the task with an open mind, checking one’s assumptions at the door as it were, and acquiring a strong base of knowledge of pertinent source material. The widespread prejudices against urban renewal and much of the legacy of the second half of the 20th century generally must be set aside in order to assess the real significance of such initiatives. Our cities and towns changed dramatically during the postwar era, and we can ill afford to dismiss those transformations out of hand."

Richard Longstreth "The Difficult Legacy of Urban Renewal" (PDF)

Many communities have been affected by urban renewal in Pennsylvania. Buildings have been demolished to make way for transportation systems and new "modern" structures. Historic neighborhoods have been destroyed, yet others have also been rehabilitated. Two cities, Pittsburgh and Philadelphia have been selected to illustrate the trends in Pennsylvania and also to demonstrate the types of resources available to researchers.



On October 2, 1945, the Philadelphia Redevelopment Authority was created by the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania's Urban Redevelopment Law of 1945 (PDF). Its function was to acquire real estate using the power of eminent domain, plan for redevelopment working with private firms, and financing the redevelopment by issuing municipal bonds of the Authority, with the overall objective of eliminating urban blight in Philadelphia. BHP compiled a bibliography of resources related to urban renewal in Philadelphia (PDF). For more information on urban renewal in Philadelphia also see the following:

The Blackbottom website, which is a "collaborative project which documents the struggle and displacement of communities by institutions and development" provides narrative on a multitude of Philadelphia neighborhoods regarding their history, historic photographs and oral interviews. Read about Eastwick, neighborhood in the Southwest section of Philadelphia, which was "the largest urban renewal project in the country." Learn about the history of the city from the Philadelphia City Archive's archivists including Hillary Kativa's "The City That Might Have Been: Edmund Bacon's Philadelphia." Read about university expansion in Scott Cohen's senior thesis "Urban Renewal in West Philadelphia: An Examination of the University of Pennsylvania's Planning, Expansion, and Community Role from the Mid-1940s to the Mid-1970s" (PDF). Examine Annis Whitlow's "Vision and Blindness: Edmund Bacon's 1963 Plan for Center City Philadelphia" (PDF).


A Place to Live

Still frame from: A Place to LiveA Place to Live, produced by Documentary Film Productions in 1948, showcases slum clearance and the construction of new housing in Philadelphia.


Miracle on the Delaware

Still frame: Miracle on the Delaware Miracle on the Delaware, circa 1955, was produced by WPTZ Motion Picture Unit. The film offers mid-fifties slices of life and landscape in Philadelphia and surrounding towns with footage of downtown scenes, neighborhoods, the Mummers Parade, Levittown and many other subjects that can no longer be seen.



An excellent resource for researching urban renewal in Philadelphia is the City of Philadelphia Archives. A sampling of the Redevelopment Authority's records (series 161.1 - 161.4) is listed below. View Redevelopment Authority's complete records (PDF) or search the City of Philadelphia Archives website.

  • The Demand for Housing in the Washington Square East-Society Hill Redevelopment Area. A Study of the Housing Market in Central Philadelphia 1958-1970 by Chester Rapkin and William G. Grigsby. Institute for Urban Studies, University of Pennsylvania. February 1958.
  • Market Street East. Report on the General Neighborhood Renewal Plan. Skidmore, Owings & Merrill. June 1966.
  • Mill Creek Redevelopment Area, Mill Creek Project - Sub Area 1 and Sub Area 2. Redevelopment Proposals, Urban Renewal Plan & Relocation Plan. 2 April 1957.

The City of Philadelphia Archives also has the City Planning Commission records which include Area Redevelopment Publications, Reports Issued by the City Planning Commission, Reports Received by the City Planning Commission, Urban Development Coordination Unit Files, Maps and Plans, and Area Planning Files.

For those interested in mid-century modern architecture, BHP's architectural field guide will be updated in the near future to provide narrative and images. For information regarding Philadelphia's modern movement, see Mid-Century Modern Philadelphia. See also PreservePhiladelphia! Thematic Context Statement Modernism: 1945 to 1980 (PDF) or Jeffrey L. Baumoel's thesis "A Study of Postwar Architecture in Center City, Philadelphia".

Further Keyword Research Suggestions:

  • Philadelphia Redevelopment Authority
  • City of Philadelphia Planning Commission
  • Philadelphia Housing Authority
  • Mayor Joseph S. Clark
  • Mayor Richardson Dilworth
  • Edmund Bacon
  • Vincent Kling
  • 1947 Better Philadelphia Exhibition

Philadelphia Urban Renewal Projects:

  • Transportation Center Building and Greyhound Station
  • Love Park
  • IBM Tower
  • City Hall West Plaza
  • Penn Center
  • Independence Mall Urban Renewal Area
  • Washington Square East Urban Renewal Area
  • Temple Redevelopment Area
  • University City Urban Renewal Area.
View of Philadelphia and the outer transportation system. Courtesy of the U.S. National Archives

Great cities are not great because of individual buildings. They're great because of the way things fit together.

Edmund Bacon
Executive Director of the Philadelphia City Planning Commission



The Urban Redevelopment Authority of Pittsburgh, incorporated in 1946, was one of the first in Pennsylvania, and "undertook the first privately financed downtown redevelopment project in the United States - Gateway Center." BHP compiled a bibliography of resources relating to urban renewal in Pittsburgh (PDF).


For more information regarding the history of Pittsburgh urban renewal history, also see the following:


American Engineer

Still frame from: American Engineer (Part I)This 1956 movie produced by Handy (Jam) Organization and sponsored by the Chevrolet Division of General Motors Corporation is a tribute to engineers and their role in improving American life through technology. Includes an aerial view of the "Golden Triangle" and views of highrises in Pittsburgh. See also Parts II-IV.


Further Keyword Research Suggestions:

  • Pittsburgh Regional Planning Association
  • Allegheny Conference on Community Development
  • Urban Redevelopment Authority of Pittsburgh
  • Regional Industrial Development Corporation
  • Richard K. Mellon
  • Mayor David L. Lawrence
  • Mayor Joseph M. Barr
  • Mayor Richard S. Caliguiri
  • John T. Mauro

Pittsburgh "Renaissance" Projects:

  • Point State Park
  • Gateway Center
  • Bell Telephone
  • Pennsylvania State Office Building
  • IBM
  • Westinghouse
  • Lower Hill District
  • Central North Side
  • Civic Arena
Junkyard across the Monongahela River Contrasts with the Modern Office Buildings (1974). Photo Courtesy of the U.S. National Archives and Records Administration

The city welcomed tomorrow, because yesterday was hard and unlovely. The town took pleasure in the swing of the headache ball and the crash of the falling brick. Pittsburgh, after all the grim years, was proud and self-confident.

Pittsburgh Mayor David Lawrence


National Register Nominations

Rohm and Haas Corporation Headquarters (Philadelphia) (PDF). While the Rohm and Haas Corporation Headquarters was listed under Criterion C for Architecture, the narrative details the company's discussions with the Philadelphia Redevelopment Authority regarding urban renewal funding.

PA State Office Building (Philadelphia) (PDF). While the PA State Office Building was listed under Criterion C for Architecture, the nomination details Philadelphia's "new modern Center City" plan.


Historic Resource Survey Forms (HRSF)

Residential Housing (Apartment or Public):

Designed Landscape:



Primary Resources at Pennsylvania State Archives

The Department of Community Affairs, the first department of its kind in the nation, was created by Act 582 of 1966. The agency became operational on July 1, 1966, with the purpose of assisting local governments and enabling the State to provide important services necessitated by expanding intergovernmental relationships involving all levels of public jurisdiction. Organizationally the Department came into being by bringing together several related activities which were scattered throughout state government. Primarily the programs in housing, urban renewal, parks and recreation, planning and economic opportunity came from the Department of Commerce, while community service, research, the information clearing house, technical assistance to local governments, municipal statistics, and legal services came from the Department of Internal Affairs. Community Affairs was responsible for providing technical and training assistance to local governments, and administering appropriate State and Federal aid programs. The Department directed programs in areas of housing and development, urban renewal, community planning, and recreation and conservation.

RG-34 Records of the Department of Community Affairs

RG-34 Records of the Department of Community Affairs; Bureau of Community Planning; Urban Planning Assistance. This series contains the plans, reports, and studies for projects funded through an urban planning grant under provisions of Section 701 of the United States Housing Act of 1954. The purpose of the program was to facilitate comprehensive planning for urban and rural development by state and local governments. Grants were made to local governments and other public planning agencies to prepare, administer, coordinate, and evaluate community, county, and region wide plans, particularly in the areas of housing and land use. Examples of project topics include waste management, land use, planning, economic development, housing, subdivision regulations, open space preservation, transportation, and education.

RG-34 Records of the Department of Community Affairs; Bureau of Community Planning; State Planning Assistant Grant. This series contains the plans, reports, and studies for projects funded through a planning grant under provisions of Appropriation Act of the General Assembly Number 73-A of March 21, 1970. This appropriation provided planning assistance and services including surveys, land use studies, urban renewal projects, technical services, and other elements of comprehensive planning programs to counties, cities, boroughs, townships, and regions. Projects funded include land use regulations, comprehensive plans, zoning ordinances, subdivision regulations, open space preservation, regional plans and background studies.

RG-34 Records of the Department of Community Affairs; Bureau of Community Services; Research and Statistics. This series contains miscellaneous reports, publications, and proposed legislation supported by the Bureau of Community Service. Titles found include: Proposed Urban Renewal Legislation, 1963; Revisions to the Appalachian Regional Development Act of 1964; A Bank Looks at Community Development, 1963; Local Government Financial Statistics, 1966; Community Renewal, 1969; 1968 Directory of Local Government Officials in Pennsylvania; and Financing Lower-Middle Income Housing Technical Appendix, 1964.

RG-15 Records of the Department of Justice

RG-15 Records of the Department of Justice; Attorney General; Housing and Urban Renewal; Housing and Urban Development

RG-31 Records of the Department of Commerce

RG-31 Records of the Department of Commerce; topics include Urban Legislation, Louis I. Kahn, Pittsburgh Urban Transit Council, Commonwealth Urban Development Agency, Urban Industrialization Project, etc.

MG-191 David L. Lawrence Papers

MG-191 David L. Lawrence Papers; Governor's Papers; Subject File.

MG-207 George M. Leader Papers

MG-207 George M. Leader Papers; General File, 1955-1959. Citizens’ Committee on Housing, 1956. Press Release No. 7792, October 5, 1956, announcing Governor Leader’s appointment of the Citizens’ Committee on Housing. This committee was directed to survey the state’s part in promoting home construction, slum clearance, and urban redevelopment in Pennsylvania, including housing for African Americans.

MG-404 Governor Dick Thornburgh Gubernatorial Papers

MG-404 Governor Dick Thornburgh Gubernatorial Papers; topics include Housing and Urban Development, Department of Housing and Urban Development, Pennsylvania Housing and Finance Agency correspondence, board meetings, and agendas, Housing Task Force, etc.

MG-472 Walter Lyon Papers

MG-472 Walter Lyon Papers; Organization Files; Urbanism Materials (1965-1992). This series houses articles and reports that discuss the growth of urban areas in the United States and around the world. Included is an article which looks at Pittsburgh and its “Renaissances,” as well as a September 1965 issue of Scientific American magazine that contains numerous articles on cities, urban sprawl and city planning activities here in America and around the world. Housing Files (1967-1990): The bulk of the materials in Series 49 date from the years 1967-1969 and deal with the issue of housing in Pennsylvania and around the United States. A report of note is a demographic study titled “The Challenge of America's Metropolitan Population Outlook - 1960 to 1985,” prepared for The National Commission on Urban Problems in 1968.

Image of man sweeping the street in front of rowhomes. Photo courtesy of the U.S. National Archives

Specifically, as to urban renewal, I would suggest that we no longer regard the program as experimental. It is gathering momentum; it is being accepted in more and more communities; it should be regarded as a national enterprise fully equivalent in importance to the highway program. We should not repeat the cat-and-mouse performance of piecemeal authorizations, with all the doubts they raise as to the program's continuance.

Governor George M. Leader
Press Release No.A-492 January 08, 1958 (PDF)


Primary and Secondary Resources



Edmund Bacon quote. "Mr. Bacon could be astringent in his criticism of architects, who, he maintained, could be so preoccupied with the surface features of a building that they missed the setting in which it was placed." American Planning Association, "In Memoriam of Edmund Bacon."

David Lawrence quote. Stefan Lorant, Pittsburgh: The Story of an American City (Pittsburgh: Esselmont Books, 1964): 373. Quote from 1999 edition.

Governor George M. Leader, Press Release No. SA-492 January 08, 1958. Courtesy of the Pennyslvania State Archives, Harrisburg; MG 207 Leader Papers; Subject File; Urban Redevelopment 1957; Box 1.