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The Ideology of Redevelopment

Urban renewal offered a chance for architects, city planners, and other experts to enact their ideal vision of a city. New Haven became a testing group for top-down, Modernist theories of urban design. Instead of neighborhoods in which the people lived, shopped, and worked, planners wanted to separate housing, retail, and industrial uses. Dense, irregular city streets gave way to highways to accommodate the automobile.

Especially in the first years of urban renewal, planners thought that new buildings would make new people: that renewing the city physically would solve the problems of poverty, unemployment, and racial antagonism. As the 1960s progressed, it became clear that these difficulties would not be overcome solely with new construction alone, and the Lee Administration pioneered a number of social programs.

Critics of Modernism

Yale Professor of Architecture Vince Scully, son of a New Haven alderman, was one of the most vocal critics of redevelopment. He wrote in 1967:

“Most planning of the past fifteen years has been based upon three destructive fallacies: the cataclysmic, the automotive, and the suburban... The cataclysmic insists upon tearing everything down in order to design from an absolutely clean slate; the automotive would plan for the free passage of the automobile at the expense of all other values; the suburban dislikes the city anyway and would just as soon destroy its density and strew it across the countryside.”

Modernism on Oak Street photo
Entrance to the Modernist city via the Oak Street Connector, c. 1965. Courtesy NHCHS.