Academic journal article The Journal of Southern History

The War on Slums in the Southwest: Public Housing and Slum Clearance in Texas, Arizona, and New Mexico, 1935-1965

Academic journal article The Journal of Southern History

The War on Slums in the Southwest: Public Housing and Slum Clearance in Texas, Arizona, and New Mexico, 1935-1965

Article excerpt

The War on Slums in the Southwest: Public Housing and Slum Clearance in Texas, Arizona, and New Mexico, 1935-1965. By Robert B. Fairbanks. Urban Life, Landscape, and Policy. (Philadelphia: Temple University Press, 2014. Pp. [xii], 242. $59.50, ISBN 978-1-4399-1115-0.)

Robert B. Fairbanks's new book The War on Slums in the Southwest: Public Housing and Slum Clearance in Texas, Arizona, and New Mexico, 1935-1965 is a welcome addition to the Temple University Press series on urban history and public policy. Fairbanks documents and analyzes the combined slum clearance and public housing programs in the Southwest, a region underrepresented in urban studies scholarship. By concentrating on five dynamic cities--Dallas, Houston, San Antonio, Phoenix, and Albuquerque--Fairbanks illustrates how both the push of rapid growth and the pull of a conservative ideology combined with pejorative attitudes toward the poor to promote slum clearance programs. He highlights regional similarities while explaining the distinct historical circumstances that shaped each city's struggle with substandard housing and urban revitalization. Subthemes include documentation of deliberate housing segregation based on race and the manipulation of political power by private developers.

One of Fairbanks's arguments, paralleling that of Zane L. Miller about the Midwest, asserts that confidence in the theory of "cultural determinism" (the idea that slums breed irresponsibility, crime, and violence) led policy makers to wipe out whole neighborhoods, most often African American and Hispanic ones (p. 7). Slums were seen "more as a force than as a physical condition," a force that warped the mind and stunted initiative (p. 26). However, by the 1950s and early 1960s, Fairbanks argues, the corrupting slum trope had been replaced by the belief that individual agency could propel one into a better life. The War on Slums in the Southwest also describes how politicians in these cities justified using federal housing funds for slum clearance while also developing an antifederal ideology.

The beginning chapters incorporate a close reading of the history of each of the five cities during the Franklin D. Roosevelt administration in the 1930s. …

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