Dissertation/Thesis Abstract

Blight: The development of a contested concept
by Robick, Brian David, Ph.D., Carnegie Mellon University, 2011, 387; 3452459
Abstract (Summary)

From the end of the Second World War through the 1960s and 70s, municipalities in the United States and Canada established urban renewal projects to address declining conditions. They often described these conditions as constituting "blight." While the public policies authorizing renewal provided the resources and authority necessary to physically and socially transform North American cities; they provided little guidance about the nature of urban blight and how to address it.

In this dissertation, I investigate the development of the concept of urban blight in the industrial cities of Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, USA, and Hamilton, Ontario, Canada, from the 1940s through the 1960s. Using three pairs of case studies, I examine how interested parties with varying amounts of power deployed the concept in debates surrounding planning, redevelopment, and renewal projects. The cases explore local understandings of blight before each city's participation in federal renewal programs, and during significant residential and commercial renewal projects. This international approach provides insight into the development of this contested concept in two distinct economic, political, and historical contexts.

To provide a foundation for these case studies, I examine blight as a concept in North American professional planning discourse during the first four decades of the twentieth century, using the minutes of international planning conferences and professional journals. In its transformation from technical jargon to a legal and popular term, blight was highly contentious, but its history was not incoherent. I argue that its development had a traceable trajectory throughout the twentieth century.

Throughout its development, blight was a dual and contested concept. It lay at the intersection of representation and policy: It was not only a description of declining conditions, but also a legal term that granted access to the power of eminent domain. Conflicts over blight could shape opinions about neighborhoods and potentially speed their decline, alter municipal policies and practices, and threaten planners' professional authority. Blight was not merely the setting, but a powerful force in the history of urban renewal.

Indexing (document details)
Advisor: Tarr, Joel
School: Carnegie Mellon University
School Location: United States -- Pennsylvania
Source: DAI-A 72/06, Dissertation Abstracts International
Subjects: Canadian history, American history, Urban planning
Keywords: Hamilton, Ontario, Industrial cities, Pennsylvania, Pittsburgh, Urban blight, Urban renewal
Publication Number: 3452459
ISBN: 978-1-124-59294-7
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