The Cautious Revolution: Britain Today and Tomorrow

By Ernest Watkins | Go to book overview

CHAPTER XI
Planning and Housing

The Saturday Evening Post for August 21, 1948, contained an article, "Rumpled Angel of the Slums," on Father Carmelo Tranchese, a member of the Society of Jesus and a parish priest in the slum area of San Antonio, Texas. When Father Tranchese first went to his parish in 1932, 12,000 people were crowded into one square mile of dilapidated, ill-planned buildings lacking most of the amenities of civilized life.

In 1933, Father Tranchese determined to procure a public housing project for his parishioners and was successful in obtaining the President's signature approving a $4,000,000 project. But the very idea of this proposal brought down on his head a virulent campaign of opposition from the property owners. They were threatened with the loss of income from the slum properties and, not unnaturally, the men drawing such dividends wanted desperately to preserve their status quo. Yet the local housing authority managed to obtain 30 acres of the worst slums on which the owners had set a price of $1,200,000. Nathan Straus, head of the National Housing Authority, canceled the deal in disgust, but Father Tranchese, by means of a personal appeal to Mrs. Eleanor Roosevelt, eventually secured the sum of $12,000,000 on behalf of San Antonio's blighted area. Today more than 1,000 new units have replaced the slums.

Slums comparable to those in San Antonio must exist all over the world. They certainly still exist in some parts of England and Scotland. But this method of getting rid of them does not seem entirely satisfactory. Not every President has a wife like Mrs. Roosevelt; not every appeal by a parish priest is answered. Nor are there enough Father Trancheses to go around.

In Britain, housing, town planning and public health--all the public responsibilities involved in the story of Father Tranchese

-175-

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