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Thread: WPA Posters: Housing and Health

  1. #1

    WPA Posters: Housing and Health

    As part of the WPA effort to employ artists, there were a number of posters produced to publicize the need for public housing. Many of these have been lost. But some have been preserved. The ones included here are property of the Library of Congress. See also, Posters for the People and Posters of the WPA. Or PM me for an article that will be published in the August edition of the American Journal of Public Health.











  2. #2
    Cyburbian
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    Interesting posters; cool graphic art!

    To me the posters reflect a perfect example of "what comes around goes around." Just a scant few decades after the utopian superblock projects promoted in these posters were built to "cure" the problems in tenement housing, the housing projects themselves fell prey to the very same problems (of an arguably worse nature, even - I'd much rather have lived in the Lower East Side than in Cabrini-Green).

    The posters also reflect a lot of the naive utopian thinking common of that time, primarily the notion that good design could change human nature (i.e. "cure juvenile delinquency"). Design does influence behavior (which is not the same as human nature), but we can't expect it to solve social phenomena like crime and disorder.

    I suppose the NYCHA (featured in a couple of these posters) fared somewhat better than most other projects (still wouldn't want to live in it, though), but it's particularly ironic that the tenement housing disparaged in these posters is highly desirable today (judging by the insane rents). Improved occupancy, life safety, and sanitation codes probably had far more of an effect on "fixing" the formerly-disparaged tenements and rowhouses than any of the superblock and tower block schemes that followed. Turns out once you add modern utilities to a tenement, scrub off the grime, and outlaw one-family-per-room densities, the building can be fairly comfortable!

  3. #3
    Very few of the NYCHA developments failed. The reasons for the success in New York have been extensively studied and include better siting, more likely to have mixed income, higher quality units (the amount spent per unit on construction was much higher in NYC), commitment by city administrations to make them work, better racial integration, an acceptance by the community at large to the idea of public housing.

    The same hubris that led many to think that public housing would be healthier can also be seen in those who thought the single family lot on dendritic street patterns would also be healthier and better for the environment We all learn as we go along.

  4. #4
    Cyburbian
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    It's true that the NYCHA had no ghastly equivalent of Pruitt-Igoe or Cabrini-Green, but now that most of their towers are reaching the end of their "design lives" I wonder how NYCHA residents will fare when they discover there will be no money for extensive repairs and replacements.

    It seems like NORC projects (naturally-occurring or explicitly-planned projects for retirees) have held up the best, and the NYCHA has a lot of NORCs. On the other hand, the NYCHA's non-NORC projects are hardly problem-free. (Most of the crime left in NYC is disproportionately concentrated in the projects too.) If the NYCHA is an example of the nation's most "successful" public housing org, then that doesn't give me much confidence in the concept of public housing at all.

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