THE QUEST TO SAVE
THE INNER CITY
A Historical Perspective
In the beginning, inner-city neighborhoods in the United States were not disaster areas, but vital parts of the cities to which they belonged.
America's great cities, perhaps excepting Washington, D.C., arose as places where goods were shipped, processed, and traded. With their accessible ocean harbors, east coast cities such as New York and Boston became great ports. Goods moved to and from Chicago via Lake Michigan and the Chicago River and later by rail. Atlanta, located not on a body of water but at the site of a railroad junction (one of its early names was Terminus), became a central trade depot for the South. Los Angeles at first used the Los Angeles River, then acquired an ocean port, railroads, and finally a highway network to become the dominant port of the Southwest. To finance, sell, and distribute the goods the port brought in, each city developed business districts whose main streets— Wall Street, State Street, Peachtree Street—became synonymous with finance and commerce. Along the water and near railroad depots entrepreneurs built factories to process the goods streaming in and out of the city. Industrial areas, such as the stockyard district in Chicago and the Alameda corridor in Los Angeles, became almost as famous as the downtown business districts. After all, the commercial and industrial businesses that grew out of the port trade were the lifeblood of the country's lusty young urban centers.
Neighborhoods developed around the city's core to house the people who worked in commerce and industry. In the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries these districts—the inner-city neighborhoods—ranged from the elegant to the humble. Inner-city luxury districts such as Boston's Beacon Hill, San Francisco's Nob Hill, and Chicago's Gold Coast were known far and wide for their gentility and tasteful architecture.
At the other extreme were the lowly areas which, although inhabited by all sorts of people including shopkeepers and factory workers, were identified with the poor, the destitute, immigrants, and African Americans. Demand for homes ran high in congested working- and lower-class neighborhoods, and thus the poor crammed into cellars, alley shacks, and cheap tenement buildings. These abodes—damp, dark, and lacking rudimentary plumbing—were