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The Wastelands of Urban Renewal

Through large-scale demolition and clearance, American urban renewal waged a war on perceived waste—and created a new tide of it.
International Harvester bulldozers lined up for war
International Harvester bulldozers lined up for war Wisconsin Historical Society/Courtesy of Yale University Press

This post is part of a CityLab series on wastelands, and what we squander, discard, and fritter away.

“Urban renewal” is a phrase with loaded connotations in American politics and history. The term largely refers to three policies enacted in the postwar era: the Housing Act of 1949, the Housing Act of 1954, and the Federal-Aid Highway Act of 1956. Up until 1974, the federal government funded a nationwide policy of demolition and large-scale clearance.