Nixon Drove “balkanization and polarization” While Claiming the Opposite

I stumbled across a 1970 clipping from Nixon’s administration where they claimed “urban renewal” (widely recognized today as intentionally racist and destructive to American cities) would do the exact opposite of what we know they designed it to accomplish.

The President’s study group on urban renewal has recommended that the controversial Federal program be continued and used as a major means of halting the “balkanization and polarization of American society.”

The panel, appointed by President Nixon last Oct. 17, said that urban renewal should be used to “help exorcise the specter of increasing apartheid” by building within the central cities communities that would bring together people of various ethnic and income groups.

I mean we know the exact opposite happened because of systemic racism, right?

Those opposed to redevelopment had little recourse in a pre-Civil Rights era; the neighborhood had scant political clout, and most residents were tenants, not homeowners.

The residents of the heavily African-American neighborhood had also, by no accident, been precluded from getting home loans that would have helped them buy their own homes. (Meanwhile, racist homeowner groups in booming nearby suburbs like Palo Alto were also working hard to ensure that “white flight” from the city stayed white.)


“You have to read into the idea that these absolutely beautiful Victorian buildings were also blighted because they were populated by black people,” said [long time SF resident] Collins. “It’s amazing to me when you look back at the amount of housing that was removed.”

Urban renewal wiped out diversity, and instead further balkanized and polarized cities such as SF.

The number of African-Americans displaced from the Western Addition as a result of urban renewal is unknown, but estimates start at 10,000 people. Less quantifiable is the cultural aftermath; a once-thriving district studded with minority-owned businesses, nightclubs and hotels in the heart of San Francisco now exists mostly in faded photos and oral histories.

Incredible to see how the Nixon administration falsely projected the terms balkanization and polarization onto their targets, especially when you think about who pushes that exact terminology today when talking about the Internet.

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