Environment & Urbanization

World leading environmental and urban studies journal

The War on Slums in the Southwest: Public Housing and Slum Clearance in Texas, Arizona, and New Mexico, 1935-1965

Robert B Fairbanks

Temple University Press



Robert B Fairbanks tells the story of public housing and slum clearance in five of the largest cities in the US Southwest – Albuquerque, Dallas, Houston, Phoenix and San Antonio – and illustrates how changing urban discourses can enforce changes in national policies.

The book starts by explaining the rationale for choosing those cities and characterizing their main social, economic and political developments. Based on extensive archival sources, the author shows how housing problems were historically created and maintained in certain parts of the cities and how these had significant impacts on the overall social well-being. The emergence of public housing movements, public housing programmes and legislative changes all form part of what the author describes as the war on slums, manifested through measures of slum clearance and actions to construct safe and healthy environments that promote a sense of community and civic engagement in low-income areas.

The book then analyses how World War II suspended these efforts, and how the public housing discourse afterwards transformed from a largely collectively oriented one, which was centred around the needs of the city, towards a new emphasis on individual rights and freedoms.

A key contribution of the book is the detailed account it gives about the important role of the state in enabling or hindering cities to address the social and economic problems that are at the heart of housing debates. At the same time, it highlights how urban redevelopment and urban renewal, slum removal and slum prevention, and the promotion of social welfare and economic health in the five cities are also fundamental reflections of a cultural turn in the discourse of low-income housing. Although the book examines mostly the period 1935-1965, readers will find parallels to current housing discourses in the US and elsewhere, and the need to declare “Our War on Poverty, Not Yours on Slums”, as the author outlines in the Epilogue.


Book note prepared by Julia Wesely

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