The “Pittsburgh Renaissance,” an urban renewal effort launched in the late 1940s, transformed the smoky rust belt city’s downtown. Working-class residents and people of color saw their neighborhoods cleared and replaced with upscale, white residents and with large corporations housed in massive skyscrapers. Pittsburgh’s Renaissance’s apparent success quickly became a model for several struggling industrial cities, including St. Louis, Cleveland, Detroit, Chicago, and Philadelphia.
In A Good Place to Do Business: The Politics of Downtown Renewal Since 1945 (Temple UP, 2022), Roger Biles and Mark Rose chronicle these urban “makeovers” which promised increased tourism and fashionable shopping as well as the development of sports stadiums, convention centers, downtown parks, and more. They examine the politics of these government-funded redevelopment programs and show how city politics (and policymakers) often dictated the level of success.
As city officials and business elites determined to reorganize their downtowns, a deeply racialized politics sacrificed neighborhoods and the livelihoods of those pushed out. Yet, as A Good Place to Do Business demonstrates, more often than not, costly efforts to bring about the hoped-for improvements failed to revitalize those cities, or even their downtowns.
Nicole Trujillo-Pagán is a sociologist and Associate Professor at Wayne State University who studies race, the Latina/o/x population, and socio-spatial mobility. You can follow her on Twitter @BorderStruggles.
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