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Democracy, Governance and Human Rights Programme Paper 15: Chicago's Near South Side: Revisiting the South Loop and South Armour Square, 2001

26 Jan 2005

  • Authors: David C. Ranney, Patricia A. Wright


The Housing Act established as national policy the intent to realize “as soon as feasible... the goal of a decent home and a suitable living environment for every American family”. Over the next quarter of a century, cities and states in the United States built hundreds of thousands of housing units for low-income families, many of them funded from federal grants.

According to the authors, an important source of economic growth for the US economy came via the Bretton Woods agreement of 1944, which played a crucial role in guiding Europe’s reconstruction after the Second World War and channelled economic stimulus across the Atlantic. As European reconstruction drew to a close and its stimulus began to weaken, the industrial democracies lapsed into slow growth and high unemployment. By the 1970s, a new consensus began to emerge that regulation, a hallmark of the Bretton Woods era (1944–1971), had become the main enemy of growth. In the neoliberal revolution that was to follow, housing policy and particularly the viability of publicly funded housing for low-income groups came under attack.

This paper chronicles the interplay of global and local economic forces and the political responses to them that have led to the loss of low-income/affordable housing near the central business district in Chicago, Illinois, in the United States. It finds that financing for urban development—whether for infrastructure, transportation or housing—is now integrated into global capital markets, and that the supply of these urban goods, including affordable housing, is determined by the returns these investments offer creditors seeking opportunities in a globally integrated market. The paper concludes that because of these pressures, local governments, even when committed to reversing historical social inequalities, have little leeway in working with socially progressive forces to accomplish such ends.

David C. Ranney is Professor Emeritus at the College of Urban Planning and Public Affairs, University of Illinois at Chicago. Patricia A. Wright is a scholar at the Nathalie P. Voorhees Center for Neighborhood and Community Improvement, a unit of the College of Urban Planning and Public Affairs, University of Illinois at Chicago, United States.

Order DGHRPP 15 from UNRISD (US$ 12 for readers in industrialized countries and US$ 6 for readers in developing and transitional countries and for students).