Urban planning and social justice: how Ed Logue reinvented Boston

GAZETTE: What do you think has been Logue’s greatest achievement?

COHEN: Physically, I would say Roosevelt Island in New York is probably his most important project. I once called it Logue’s “Great Society Utopia in the East River” for its efforts to build a mixed-income, mixed-race, walkable community there with many other innovative attributes. When its sponsor, the UDC, collapsed, the original plan was never completed and it eventually attracted market-priced housing which undermined Logue’s original design. But it’s still a vibrant place that’s home to an unusual mix of New Yorkers. It remains affordable for many people, while many other parts of the city are not. But perhaps more important than any physical space he built was the kind of engaged, experimental spirit Logue brought to his work, a belief that, as a society, we have a responsibility to provide. decent housing for all Americans, to make our cities work for everyone. Logue was also very interested in how architects, if properly encouraged and supported, could help create more decent and affordable housing, applying technological and design innovations to improve quality and supply. And although his primary focus was physical renewal, Logue never forgot that people needed more than housing, they needed to earn a decent living and give their children the best possible chance of life. opportunities in life.

GAZETTE: His biggest failure?

COHEN: I think Logue would have said it was his disastrous effort to put affordable housing in wealthy Westchester County, NY He thought that eventually as head of the UDC, a statewide agency, he was well positioned to engage an entire metropolitan area in solving New York’s massive housing crisis. (He had long felt that urban problems should be solved on a metropolitan basis, that it was unfair to lay the blame on the city alone when suburbanites earned good livelihoods in the city and then escaped to the suburbs each night.) He thought he had come up with a modest plan to put no more than 100 garden-apartment-style affordable housing units in nine Westchester towns. Boy, did he turn out to be wrong. He was struck by such opposition that the UDC lost much of its powers and eventually collapsed. There were also other problems; at times, Logue let his building ambitions trump careful financial oversight. But no wrongdoing was found. I think Logue was trying to accomplish as much as he could with limited resources.

GAZETTE: What can we learn from him today?

COHEN: Logue always insisted that the public sector should bear most of the responsibility, that it was neither realistic nor appropriate to leave major social problems to the private sector to solve. Today we live in a world of urban politics where the private sector is expected to provide most of the solutions to the affordable housing crisis as well as other big problems, such as the collapse of city ​​infrastructure. We should look at the mess that most of our cities are in and recognize that this is not the solution. We have poorly functioning transit systems in major cities like New York and Boston. We have terrible affordable housing shortages where nowhere in the United States can someone working minimum wage afford a two-bedroom apartment. There is something wrong here. By entrusting these responsibilities to the private sector, we have let private interests dictate too much. I think it’s also a travesty that we’ve allowed social housing to deteriorate to the point where in many cities the renovation and maintenance bill is beyond the capacity of the city because very little help is coming now of the federal government. And yet, the lists are only growing of people wishing to access public housing or obtain housing vouchers to integrate the private real estate market. Almost every solution we adopt today depends on the whims of private interests, whether it’s tax credits for social housing or opportunity zones that give tax relief to businesses, vouchers that It can be difficult to get landlords to accept requirements that developers looking for new market-rate projects pay bond funds to build affordable housing elsewhere or commit to setting aside a certain number of affordable units in their new construction. But we can’t expand these programs enough to make a big enough difference.

GAZETTE: So greater involvement of the public sector is necessary?

COHEN: Boston’s Seaport District is a testament to what happens when you just let the free market rule, where what’s built is what developers think will make a profit. I’m not saying you have to go back to the bad old days of urban renewal in the 1950s. But you have to realize that urban renewal was an evolutionary process that got better over time, and that a person like Ed Logue, who certainly had his faults, learned on the job. We could use a little more today the kind of commitment he showed and his sense that society as a whole, especially through the resources of his powerful federal government, must accept responsibility for making America urban fairer and fairer.

The interview has been edited for clarity and cut for space.