From Renewal Czar of New Haven to Collaborative Colleague in the South Bronx


Lizabeth Cohen


Harvard University


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Note to Reader: 

The text that follows is an excerpt from the Conclusion of my book, Saving America’s Cities: Ed Logue and the Struggle to Renew Urban America in the Suburban Age (Farrar, Straus & Giroux, 2019; Picador Paperback, 2020; Kindle and audio book). It won the Bancroft Prize for the best book in American History in 2020. The book’s protagonist, Edward J. Logue (1921-2000), was a major figure among a generation of urban redevelopers. His long career from the early 1950s to the end of the century, spent in multiple cities, provides me with the opportunity to follow important transformations in Logue’s work as well as in broader strategies of urban revitalization. I argue in the book that we cannot simply dismiss all interventions as disastrous “urban renewal,” but rather need to investigate both the major blunders and the significant changes in approach that took place over time, as influential redevelopers like Logue learned from past mistakes, communities demanded more of a say, and government policies shifted. We follow Logue from New Haven in the 1950s, to Boston in the 1960s, to the New York State Urban Development Corporation (UDC) from 1968 to 1975, and finally to the South Bronx from 1979 to 1985, tracking both the low points, such as how urban renewal was implemented in New Haven, and the high points, such the UDC’s development of Roosevelt Island in New York City. 

--Lizabeth Cohen 


Taking measure of a life’s work as complex as Ed Logue’s raises challenges. He described his career to an oral historian from the Library of Congress in 1995 as “a helluva ride.” (1)

It was a career of continuities fueled by unwavering personal passions and ideological convictions, and of changes resulting from significant shifts in his thinking as well as strategic adaptations made to the evolving rules of urban redevelopment.  
Some of Logue’s commitments he never compromised. Keeping American cities viable was the first commandment for this Philadelphia-born, New Haven–educated, Boston- and New York–devoted urban professional. Next, the goal of providing all Americans with decent housing propelled him to redevelop neighborhoods, even when it seemed—particularly in the early days in New Haven—that he was tearing down more buildings than he was putting up. He never doubted that there was method to what some thought was madness. A great deal of Logue’s neighborhood renewal—New Haven’s Dixwell and Wooster Square, Boston’s Roxbury and Charlestown, Roosevelt Island and the Nine Towns in New York’s Westchester County, and Charlotte Gardens in the South Bronx—was motivated by his conviction that the highest hope for cities and their residents lay in creating mixed-income and mixed-race communities. He was convinced that even if there was some displacement in the short term, the segregation of urban populations in distinctive neighborhoods of cities and in separate municipalities across metropolitan areas only fed inequity in public services and life chances. Otherwise, the better-off always got the best.  

As far back as Logue’s student days at Yale College and Law School, he had devoted himself deeply to racial integration. The pursuit of racial, not just income, diversity in residential projects animated all his work, from New Haven to Boston to all over New York State. Logue held to this ideal, even when its opponents came to include not just entrenched whites but also separatist-oriented African Americans in the era of Black Power. In the South Bronx, although white buyers were scarce for Charlotte Gardens homes, Logue sought a balance between black and Latino residents. Everywhere he worked, he insisted that minorities be well represented among contractors and their subcontractors and that school integration be made a top priority. (2)
Segregated living by class and race, Logue insisted, was not just a problem within cities. As suburbanization boomed in the postwar era, whole communities became differentiated and unequal in the opportunities they offered their residents. To address this segmentation, Logue tried to plan for entire metropolitan areas in New Haven and Boston, but it was only at the New  York State Urban Development Corporation (UDC) where he finally enjoyed enough statewide authority to push it. The result was his Fair Share Housing program. He promoted it with passion and forbearance, but it created so much opposition that in a backlash, the UDC lost its extraordinary zoning-override powers.  
To achieve all these goals, Logue kept lifelong faith in the role, responsibility, and resources of the federal government. Although he felt that urban planning and execution were most successful when handled by locals who knew their cities well, only the federal government could supply sufficient financial and other support to help cities and their residents prosper. He knew no better vehicle for achieving what he enthusiastically referred to as “social engineering” that challenged the status quo, though some of his contemporaries disparaged it. (3)

As loyal as Logue was to these enduring ambitions throughout his life, he did evolve over time. Probably the most significant shift was his recalibration of the ideal relationship of urban redevelopers to the communities they set out to “improve.” Despite his adoption of the motto “planning with people” in New Haven during the 1950s, there Logue considered himself the expert who needed to consult only with representatives from established interest groups to serve the public interest. I have labeled this mode of community input pluralist democracy. In those days Logue and his colleagues Dick Lee and Mike Sviridoff felt it unnecessary, if not unwise, to collaborate with more grassroots participatory democratic organizations like the Hill Parents Association. But in Boston, in the throes of the politicized 1960s, Logue by necessity learned to negotiate with community groups like the Lower Roxbury Community Corporation and South End housing activists, giving them more of what they wanted for their neighborhoods in return for advancing his own redevelopment agenda. The Boston Herald reported that the South End community organizer Mel King objected to Logue’s prioritizing of downtown over the neighborhoods but “credits Logue with setting the stage for neighborhood groups to get involved in housing development.” (4)

By the time Logue was embedded once again in a local community during the late 1970s and 1980s in the South Bronx, he made an even bigger adjustment, recognizing that his only chance for success resided with working closely with neighborhood CDCs, community planning boards, and other grassroots vehicles advancing participatory democracy. Without the kind of backing he had once enjoyed from the federal government, the statehouse, and city hall, his best bet rested in allying with residents who were deeply invested in the fate of their neighborhoods. Somewhat to his own surprise, Logue came to value those relationships and to recognize their importance for everyone involved. One might be tempted to argue that Logue’s greater openness to community input resulted simply from the breakdown of the pipeline from Washington. But this explanation does not sufficiently account for Logue’s evolution from renewal czar of New Haven to collaborative colleague in the South Bronx.  
Another shift in Logue’s redevelopment strategy lay in his approach toward architecture. In New Haven during the 1950s, he and his partner Mayor Lee were convinced that building in a cutting-edge modernist style would send just the signal needed that New Haven was viable in the postwar economy and open for business. Logue even wanted the house that he and Margaret constructed for themselves to convey this up-to-dateness. Only in his last years in New Haven did Logue begin to experiment with rehabilitating existing housing rather than demolishing the old and building anew. The exemplary Wooster Square project would remain a source of great pride forever after. 

In Boston, Logue persisted with his conviction that the latest modernist architecture provided the perfect way to announce a declining city’s rebirth. Government Center in particular, with its new city hall chosen by international architectural competition, appropriately symbolized the New Boston. Logue’s confidence that there were rewards for good modern architecture extended to the point that in the late 1980s, long after the opening of Boston’s Government Center, Logue tried unsuccessfully to complete Paul Rudolph’s State Service Center as planned, with its pinwheeling tower, even bringing in Rudolph himself to help. (5) Back in the 1960s, however, Logue had already begun to soften his exclusively modernist vision. Recalling New Haven’s Wooster Square, he came to appreciate even more the importance of preserving some of the historic fabric of Boston alongside the new buildings, which led to the preservation of the Sears Crescent and Quincy Market.

In Boston, too, he lived in a nineteenth-century rowhouse on historic Beacon Hill. What I have called Logue’s embrace of a more “negotiated cityscape” between the old and new would influence later projects like Roosevelt Island, where Logue went out of his way to preserve historic structures.

At the UDC, Logue welcomed what he considered his mission to create architecturally innovative housing prototypes for use anywhere. (6) He adapted European New Towns to the American physical and political landscape. He pioneered applying the latest technology to residential construction. And he hired prominent architects to design new types of subsidized housing, such as an innovative model for low-rise, high-density living in Brooklyn’s Marcus Garvey Park Village. Logue later launched a competition for a fresh approach to high-rise subsidized housing on Roosevelt Island, until the UDC’s downfall kept him from seeing it to completion. Although some of the UDC’s critics blamed the agency’s financial woes on Logue’s hiring of high-profile architects, he stubbornly defended the importance of experimentation in housing design and sought to make improvements based on insights that emerged from the UDC staff’s famous live-ins. Not all UDC housing succeeded, of course. Some was judged poor in quality, due to overly experimental design, cost constraints, and Logue’s rush to get it up quickly with his fast-tracking schemes.

When Logue arrived in the South Bronx and was faced with the challenge of redeveloping the devastated Charlotte Street neighborhood with a minimum of public resources, he abandoned his previous prioritizing of creative design and searched for another approach that would appeal to the prospective residents and private financers whose buy-in he now needed. Charlotte Gardens, a suburban-type development of ninety conventional, architecturally uninspired, ranch houses was groundbreaking only in its use of prefabricated construction. To Logue’s credit, although he knew that he was inviting condemnation from the planners and architects whose admiration he had long cultivated, he chose to put a viable future for Charlotte Street above his own architectural predilections and personal reputation. In the realm of design, as in the way he learned to consult more broadly with community members, Logue adjusted to the requirements of the moment and brought flexibility rather than ideological rigidity to his work. 
As opportunities allowed it, Ed Logue enjoyed being what I have described as a rebel in the belly of the establishment beast, using his powerful position to pursue his goals and, if necessary, impose his own standards and values on projects and people. But over time Logue learned that this role did not always serve him well. At the UDC, when Logue’s social mission sharply conflicted with the economic interests of his establishment sponsors, he was ousted. In the South Bronx, by necessity, Logue accomplished more as an outsider operating from the city’s far north reaches than as a mouthpiece of the political authorities downtown. At the height of his influence, Logue’s insider stance likely had blinded him to some of the limitations of federal urban renewal that only in later life did he fully understand. But although his passage from star performer to cast extra was not easy, Logue’s ability to shift ultimately helped him preserve his sense of self-worth and not withdraw into defeatism or alienation. Even if out of the mainstream toward the end of his career, Logue remained effective. 
1. Edward J. Logue, Interview by Morton Schussheim, May 24, 1995, Pioneers in Housing Oral History Project, Library of Congress, Washington, DC, transcript, 39.  
2. Logue to Herbert A. Tessler, memorandum, March 19, 1984, Edward J. Logue Papers, Yale University Library Manuscripts and Archives, New Haven, CT, 1985 Accession, Box 113, Folder “MH Tessler 1983–”: “Our new friends cannot have an all white set of subs either here or anywhere else they expect to do publicly assisted housing in the City of New York.” On persistent segregation of schools, Fred Harris and Alan Curtis, “The Unmet Promise of Equality,” New York Times, March 1, 2018. 
3. For Logue’s continued call for greater federal involvement in housing: Logue, “Housing as a National Responsibility,” Oculus, April 1989, 4–5, special issue of the publication of New York Chapter of the AIA, “Can New York Afford Affordable Housing?”  
4. Quoted in “‘New Boston’ Planner Comes Back for More,” Boston Herald, January 12, 1988.  
5. “‘New Boston’ Planner Comes Back for More”; William Tuttle, Interview by Lizabeth Cohen, March 6, 2010, Belmont, MA.  
6. On Logue’s architectural ambitions for the UDC, Housing New York: Ed Logue and His Architects, brochure from the exhibition presented by the Architectural League and the Municipal Art Society, Urban Center, New York, NY, February 5–April 14, 2001. 



Lizabeth Cohen is the Howard Mumford Jones Professor of American Studies and a Harvard University Distinguished Service Professor in the History Department at Harvard. From 2011-18 she was the dean of the Harvard Radcliffe Institute for Advanced Study. She is the author of Saving America’s Cities: Ed Logue and the Struggle to Renew Urban America in the Suburban Age (2019), which won the 2020 Bancroft Prize in American History; A Consumers’ Republic: The Politics of Mass Consumption in Postwar America (2003); and Making a New Deal: Industrial Workers in Chicago, 1919-1939 (1990, also winner of the Bancroft Prize and finalist for the Pulitzer). Her writings have appeared in many edited volumes, academic journals, and popular venues, including The Atlantic, New York Times, Washington Post, and American Prospect. Among many honors, Cohen has been a fellow of the Guggenheim Foundation, NEH, the American Council of Learned Societies, and the Radcliffe Institute. She is an elected member of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences and the Society of American Historians. She was the Harmsworth Professor of American History at Oxford during 2007-8 and she is a former president of the Urban History Association. Cohen received her Ph.D. from the University of California Berkeley and her A.B. from Princeton University.