Module 6

CD’s Third Wing: “Socio-Economic-Political Mobilization”

Elfreth’s Alley, Philadelphia “America’s Oldest Residential Street” 1702

The changing economic base of the Early Republic Big Cities generated the first examples of CD’s Third Wing: the Socio-Economic-Political Mobilization Wing. While I have no numbers or studies to support my observation, I believe this wing is Contemporary ED’s largest—at least in terms of aggregate number of CDOs. This is certainly true if one combines it with the Black Fourth Wing. The neighborhood and its related commercial dimension are referred by the term “sub-municipal” CDO/EDOs. Over the course of our history, the neighborhood has been the heartland of American CD’s Third Wing.

There is, as we shall discover in this module, another category of Third Wing mobilization movements which is not, for the most part, bound to neighborhoods. This movement is based either on “group identity” or resolvement of social inequities/pathologies. The common denominator is they serve “people-interests”, be they neighborhood residents, members of a particular identity, or a social class. They can form neighborhood-based CDOs, ACORN for example did, but their concerns transcend the geography of a neighborhood. They are not regarded as sub-municipal-level CDOs in this history. Many of these non-neighborhood-based social mobilization movements could, if they existed in another nation which did not share our unforgiving two-party presidential political system, become a third political party. Unions are the example tackled in this module.

The Wing is extraordinarily diversified. Surprisingly, a considerable number of CDOs adopt Privatist” MED strategies to assure themselves of future economic growth through economic/physical neighborhood revitalization agenda/strategies. They do so, however, to advance the interests of neighborhood residents, not the overall success of firms in in the jurisdictional economic base–but there is clear overlap between the two. They are, on the whole “people-focused”, resident-oriented. Many are primarily housing CDOs, others neighborhood revitalization.

Saul Alinsky

The type of Third Wing CDO that has arguably captured the most attention—and reaction—have been non-neighborhood-based social-economic mobilization CDOs. Their agenda can be described as overtly political, or class-based economic. For example, Saul Alinsky and his contemporary neo-Alinsky and ACORN, probably Occupy, Move On, and maybe today’s Sanctuary City Movement fit into this category. Also included in this Wing, and a controversial inclusion it may well be, are unions and the ethnic-based political machines that even today are often associated with charismatic mayors and modern bureaucratic urban machines. I do not deal directly with ethnic-ward-based political machines in AS TWO SHIPS or this module, but given a few good bourbons, I am sure I would admit I think they do.

Ideologically, they are all over the place; some advanced busing in the 1960’s–others resisted it. Neighborhood CDOs can be found on both “sides” of a neighborhood in transition–gentrifying or in racial transition. Hence, while the Progressive “label” can be applied to most movements of both types, it is equally likely that Privatist applies to many as well. In real life, the distinction between the two is often meaningless to its participants. That can also be true for non-neighborhood-based social movements as private-sector unions approach things differently than public sector unions. The reader, saturated with contemporary era’s seemingly exclusive focus on the disadvantaged and downtrodden as Third Wing’s prime constituency, might hold back a bit–our below tale of 19th century neighborhood civic improvement associations leads to a strange twist that remains relevant today.

Cesar Chavez

The inclusion of sub-municipal Third Wing CDOs and non-neighborhood Third Wing mobilization movements is totally necessary to our history–although it will not be evident in our history until we get to our Contemporary Era. Third Wing mobilization CDOs rose to prominence during the Transition Era–and one can argue in many urban policy systems, think of Seattle for example, they dominate the Contemporary Era.

While the latest surge of “identity politics” may prove temporary, I’m not putting my money on it. With the spike in immigration after 1970, a host of ethnic/racial-led neighborhood CDOs transformed many the politics of our cities. In some cities, San Francisco comes to mind, neighborhood-level identity-based CDOs have become a major element of the city’s political fabric. The rise of Third Wing mobilization CDOs has been one of the most important transformations in American ED/CD since 1975.

In any event, the organization of this module is simple. The first section below presents the outline of  the 19th century neighborhood movement that arose from civic improvement associations. There are other examples found in late 19th century Big Cities that remind us of today’s neighborhood CDOs, and there will be some brief mention of them in later themes. The other (second)major topic is unions–in this case private sector unions. While I do present its Early Republic history, the discussion in this module  outlines how workingmen’s unions were unable to sustain an independent political party, and turned instead to using a Third Wing mobilization movement. Despite repeated efforts, unions have replicated this pattern to the present time. That means, given their undeniable overlap into S&L ED, some place has to be found in our history for them. This is it.

Civic Improvement Associations

Andrew Jackson Downing

The civic or village improvement movement dates back to 1848 with Andrew Jackson Downing’s encouragement to city dwellers to establish “rural improvement societies for encouraging tree planting and tasteful architecture”.[2] The first known CDO to form, in 1853 Stockbridge MA became “the prototype for all that followed”. By 1880, Massachusetts had twenty-eight associations and Connecticut between fifty and sixty. In the 1880’s and 90’s, civic associations spread to the Middle Atlantic, then to the South East, and by 1900, California, probably the last, “had several dozens of associations.[3] All in all there were probably thousands across the United States.

Civic improvement associations were led–and disproportionately populated–by upper and middle class women, many of which were mobilized by other moral social reform/Progressive movements ongoing at the time. Like chambers of commerce civic improvement associations arose almost naturally in many smaller cities and towns. Neighborhood improvement associations (NIA) also could be found in new 19th century Big City subdivisions. Most Big Cities were still able to capture much of the 19th century “drive to the periphery” because existing city boundaries were not yet reached, and annexation was still possible.

One of Downing’s Designs

Like chambers civic associations were far from monolithic in their views and purposes. In fact, both Richard Hofstadter and Craig Turnbull describe these civic associations as “the coexistence of illiberalism and reform”[4] in that many used beautification and real estate techniques to keep undesirables out of their areas–a not so Progressive orientation.

In later years of the City Beautiful era, early Great Migration affected the activities of these associations. To counter what was viewed as “conservative parochialism”, Progressive reformers created a national association (similar to the National Municipal League) which came to be called the American League of Civic Improvement, located at first in Springfield Illinois, and in 1902 moving to Chicago. The reality that neighborhood CDOs formed a national entity at the turn of the century, has been lost to our history.

Their quite varied agenda of concerns ranged from civic beauty, planting trees and flowerbeds (which became a tourism strategy for a small town), to public sanitary conditions, and importantly a direct connect to the landscape architecture profession, to the parks movement, and from there to planning—even touching upon municipal water supply and filtering. As it is today, sub-municipal CDOs do lots of things, extending their reach into many other policy areas.

From our ED perspective, the intersection of the civic association movement with the rising parks movement provides an important insight into the role CD played in the overall City Beautiful Movement. Looking ahead to future Themes, the City Beautiful Movement, I assert, will be the first concrete example of a nation-wide CD/MED economic development strategy. It is under the City Beautiful umbrella that both approaches, MED and CD, operated from the 1890’s almost to the Great Depression. Accordingly, a brief description of how civic associations participated is important to our history.

Andrew Jackson Downing

Newburgh (NY) native Andrew Jackson Downing was born precisely as the Second Great Awakening entered its growth years (1815).  Drawing upon its fervor, Downing embraced not religion, but horticulture and landscape gardening/design. His first book, Treatise on the Theory and Practice of Landscape Gardening, Adapted to North America was an instant success, and made him a bit of a literary celebrity. He followed up with a series of books and founded journals. He was a prominent leader in founding state-level agricultural colleges.

Patrick County Virginia Home Built 1853 Following Downing’s Design

Downing espoused a “philosophy” and approach to neighborhood organization that seized upon his belief in what today is captured in “a home is a castle”. Home was the castle of a family and families were the foundation for a neighborhood. Families take pride in their home, and they develop it in ways that express their material prosperity, education, and their pride in community and nation. For Downing, civic pride results from home beautification. Civic pride begets happiness, or at least a measure of contentment, which leads to more stable citizenship and moral lifestyles. In this one can see an ethos on which future suburbs would be built, but in 1850 it was applied to Big City homes and subdivisions.

Turnbull asserts Downing espoused three cornerstone principles and goals for his concept of civic beauty: (1) the civilizing power of house and garden, (2) the capacity of both to reflect the moral and civic character of their inhabitants, and (3) the important role of the credible expert in shaping that environment (Turnbull, p. 28). Downing in the last instance was the leader of an emerging profession, an expert, whose services were essential to the achievement of is other purposes. In this Boyer will also concur (pp. 18). Improvement associations were the vehicle by which these purposes would be wrought. Once again we can see how professionalism enters into economic development.

His success and competence leads many to consider him the “father of landscape architecture”. Downing in the late 1840’s pressed hard for the construction of a huge park in New York City. On a trip to England in 1850, he picked up a junior partner who moved from England to Newburgh—together they worked on another prestigious project, the National Mall for President Millard Fillmore.

His Junior Partner

In 1846, the Smithsonian Institution was founded, and located on a site on the National Mall. President Fillmore (1850) subsequently awarded a commission to Downing to prepare a plan/report for the design of the mall. Downing issued the report in 1851, causing a stir in that it was a radical departure from L’Enfant’s paradigm. Downing wanted a “national park” that would serve as a model for the nation and Big Cities—“a public museum of living trees and shrubs”. Fillmore got his startup funds, but the plan was never fully implemented.

In the height of his fame, disaster struck. In July 1852, while onboard with his extended family the steamer, Henry Clay, exploded on the Hudson River. He burned to death at age 37, along with 80 others. That left his English junior partner with Downing’s contracts, journals and business. That fellow was quite successful. Within five years (1857).the junior partner arranged a meeting in New York City with the Superintendent of NYC’s proposed Central Park—which had been recently approved by the state legislature in 1853–in no small measure through the drive of the Superintendent.

The “Team” that created Central Park

The two had met long before their first official meeting–introduced to each other by Downing back in 1850. Sharing mutual interests, the two submitted a plan for the design and construction of the NYC Park-yes, today’s Central Park. They won. So, Downing’s junior partner, Calvert Vaux, and the Superintendent, Frederick Law Olmsted Sr., designed and built Central Park. The rest as they say is history—and will be further discussed in later modules.

Neighborhood Improvement Associations

Laurel Hill Park Location of First 1853 Meeting of the Association

Neighborhood improvement associations, an offspring of Downing, followed a different path after his death. Downing did not believe landscape architecture, or home beautification, was only meant for wealthy elites—he wanted it to be a part of middle class life. Downing wanted to make beautification part of middle class lifestyle (Craig Turnbull, An American Urban Residential Landscape, 1890-1920 (Cambria Press, 2009, p. 28)). To this end, the he stressed formation of a rural improvement society–rural in this instance certainly means suburban, and small cities and towns.

Beginning with the Laurel Hill Association in Stockbridge MA in 1853, the first incorporated village improvement society in the United States … [Laurel Hill} transformed the townscape of Stockbridge through voluntary subscription, rebuilding the ‘irregularly laid out and unevenly graded main street and planting on the town’s treeless sidewalks and common green (Turnbull, p. 29)

Downing’s most impactful convert was Birdsey Grant Northrup, a Congregational minister from CT, who took it upon himself to promote formation of the rural, village, and urban neighborhood improvement associations throughout the nation. Initially, most successful in New England, the movement eventually spread to Pacific Coast by the turn of the century. Northrup intended civic beautification to instill rural values and character into an increasingly urban and industrial America. He insisted each board of directors, be composed of a majority of women, who were, he believed, better able to raise money and secure the cooperation of others, and recruit volunteers. Atlantic Monthly, Harper’s and Scribner’s, leading media of the day, embraced improvement associations and published a stream of supporting articles in their defense and promotion.

Birdsey Grant Northrup

Northrup stressed nonpartisanship, and insisted association membership be open to all economic classes. For him a local improvement association and its services could ameliorate “the animosities of politics and religion in furnishing a safe common ground for the display of mutual beneficiary activity” (Turnbull, p. 31). In this sense, he incorporated into a local association a curious tension between the expert professional, and participatory democracy. “Maximum feasible participation”, as Moynihan would later label it, was a part of the neighborhood movement since its inception.

By the 1890’s local association initiatives were producing solid MED/CD outcomes of preserving and enhancing property values, lessening external population out-migration, serving as what today we call tourist destination benefits, and in general conveying a civic pride and satisfaction that protected the community from negative competitive impacts. Nineteenth century associations concentrated attention, aside from civic beautification, on public works, streets especially, and public schools. In short, they had become an EDO/CDO (Turnbull, p. 32).

By the 1890’s, it was clear, to many, that  improvement associations were not only not “open” to lower classes, but were also instruments in preserving neighborhood class homogeneity (this is an era previous to Black migration). Neighborhood CDOs can serve the perceived interests of middle class as well as low-income and minority residents. They were not, and still are not, exclusively Progressivist in their policy directions.

Civic Beauty–A Third Wing non-neighborhood Mobilization Movement

Such claims attracted Thorstein Veblen’s attention, not in a good way, of course. Rhapsodizing about the benefits of expensive “beauty” initiatives was for him yet another example of conspicuous consumption, in this case by the aspirational middle class. (Turnbull, p. 33). That civic beauty caught the attention of someone like Veblen is because by the 1880’s or so, it had morphed into a national movement, a movement that quickly intruded into city-building, CBD development, and the physical modernization of our Big Cities. Indeed, civic beauty became vital to Big Cities in their competition with each other–it became a form of 19th century attraction and branding. How did this revolting development happen? It started in Europe.

Place d’Opera–the Inspiration for City Beautiful

Beauty in the European context was expressed in architecture and city design. Napoleon III and Baron Haussmann (using what today we call urban renewal) transformed Paris with elaborate buildings, monuments, grand boulevards, and great parks like the Tuileries. American cities watched from afar. Applying a Protestant prism to these transformations, American reformers wanted to inject some “order” into the chaotic Big City drive to the periphery, and while doing so inject beauty into the physical landscape of the Big City. The argument would be made that such aesthetic improvements would improve the intellectual and moral foundations of Big City residents.

Interior of the Crystal Palace

In the post-Civil War Gilded Age, several mobilization movements appeared on the scene with serious repercussions on community development. Infrastructure and modernization, clothed in beauty and reminiscent of nature and small town America, were the solutions for individual virtue, a moral society, social and class stability, and economic development–and the best counter to the pernicious effects of immigration and the industrial city. A forerunner of today’s “new urbanism”, a movement subsumed under the rubric of “civic beauty” became the umbrella under which architecture, planning and economic development incrementally came together—eventually culminating at the turn of the 20th century in a national movement known as “City Beautiful”. That story is told in some detail in As Two Ships, but is summarized here in the observations of M. Christine Boyer:

… ‘thoughtful people’ … were ‘appalled at the results of progress; at the waste in time, strength, and money which congestion in city streets begets, at the toll of lives  taken by diseases when sanitary precautions are neglected; and at the frequent outbreaks against law and order which result from narrow and pleasure less lives’.

The American city was marked by a void. It was blamed for having destroyed the uplifting qualities of the physical environment; everything had been sacrificed on the altar of industry and capital acquisition. No one had questioned every man’s right to disfigure the city with heavy smoke from soft-coal furnaces, stenches from soap factories and leather tanneries, unsightly billboards, and aesthetic nuisances.… There had been no time (in the building of the industrial city) to develop the finer instincts, to transform the ideals of communal living into an adequate physical environment.[1]

Believing that improving the physical environment would change behavior, and produce satisfaction and relief to its residents, architectural Beauty became tasked in a CD sense to empower people, provide for public health, and improve society. It became to be called “civic beauty”. In the 1840’s—through the Civil War—the foundation was laid for several critically important movements that would profoundly shape the history of American S&L ED.

As offshoots of this search for an order to the American city, the municipal art, city beautiful, and civic improvement crusades grew as piecemeal efforts, movements that aimed to convert city built primarily for utility into an ideal form through artistic street signs, well-designed municipal bridges, using color in architectural elements, and improving public squares and buildings. In a similar manner these crusades were aimed to express the fullness of the human spirit, the ordering of material objects so that they elevated from the commonplace, the embedding of social ideals in public buildings, statutes, bridges, street ornaments and objects so that the better impulses of most elevated men would soon become common to all.[ii]

Frederick Law Olmsted Sr

In essence, what had happened is Downing’s original neighborhood gardening–home and family–based notions of beauty started out with a political content. Gardening created civic pride; civic pride was a foundation for democracy and urban life. A homeowner was never simply planting flowers. The physical realities of urban life could (1) change attitudes and behavior, and (2) these changes could affect the functionality of society, economy and government. The almost accidental intrusion into the budding landscape architecture-planning and parks movement carried this Third Wing social mobilization movement into Second Wing, which infused its perspective into civic beauty, transforming it into a CD strategy that offered a path to assimilation for immigrants and lower classes.

Never far from the First Wing the Parks Movement, Central Park being the foremost pioneering breakthrough, injected civic beauty into First Wing agendas. It all took time, to be sure, but by the time Northrup successfully spread civic beauty across the nation with neighborhood civic improvement associations, the neighborhood movement and the melange of flowers, ideas and embedded political goals established constituencies in each of America Big–and little–Cities. It was the neighborhood-level of a larger urban coalition that by the 1890’s had converted Downing into a city-wide CD strategy to make America, and its cities, safe from radicalism and revolution. In the 1890’s the City Beautiful Movement crystalised–the Chicago 1893 World’s Fair–an MED strategy, BTW– proved in hindsight to be its launching pad. That story, however, belongs to Theme 3.

1893 Chicago World’s Fair: the Columbian Exhibition

Diffusion of civic beauty by social mobilization Third Wing neighborhood civic improvement CDOs, enmeshed itself into the culture of America’s middle class, captured the attention of America’s intelligentsia–and more importantly the media–and was applied to solve what was seen a one of America’s more pressing urban crises of the day–restoring order through civic beauty in a time period wracked by populism, violent unionization, obsolete and deteriorated urban infrastructure, hordes of immigrants, massive disruptive innovation that unsettled lifestyles in ways no one would have imagined a decade earlier–and uneven economic growth that created our BIG CITIES–and crushed the spirits and prompted social-behavioral pathologies that scared the wits of many.One can sense CD and ED were important elements in a much-larger picture. Can I suggest, the same is evident today?

In that I later argue that modern MED/CD was “delivered” from its 19th century womb by the City Beautiful Movement, the “process” by which all this occurred is important for us to grasp. The boundaries of CD’s wings are permeable–and the interaction with media, intelligentsia–my Policy World–is constant, and its politicization seemingly inevitable. How else could we explain that growing flowers meant growing democracy and making urban life liveable, it not desirable? Transformed into a Third Wing Social Mobilization Movement Civic Beauty evolved into a community development strategy (City Beautiful)–and around WWI ironically eventually becoming an MED strategy, tossing out most of its community development initiatives. As a MED strategy the City Beautiful built the modern CBD, the so-called golden age of the CBD; the CBD which by the end of WWII itself had to be modernized–this time through urban renewal.

One last thought.

Third Wing social-economic-political mobilization today, I suspect, are most commonly thought of in terms of disruptive, empowering of crushed minorities, ethnicities, races, and identities. Of course they are–the examples are too numerous to ignore–and they seemingly dominate the present-day Contemporary Era. The lesson learned from the 19th century is more complex and complicated.

As we shall see in the next section social-economic class warfare does enter into CD and American S&L ED–there is no Trumpian firewall between American ED and class dynamics–but the interchange between the classes is a two-way street. The 19th middle and upper classes used social mobilization CDOs to diffuse a disruptive idea, and inject it into the agendas of its other more powerful wings. The Community Development City Beautiful which subsequently developed drew its strength from the middle and upper classes, and as befell urban renewal in the late 1950’s, it was captured by the non-First Wing urban elite one percenters, who used it to advance their agendas. Amazingly, the target in all these strategies was the working and lower classes, aka consumers, whose interests presumably would be best served.

Perhaps, it is now helpful to turn our attention to a Third Wing mobilization that at least in theory (forgetting the “iron law of oligarchy”) is led by, and reflects the interests of, the working and lower classes ….. Mobilization movements, however, raise CD and MED’s thorny but absolutely centrally involved participant in CD and MED policy-making: the Unions. That is the subject of our next module.