Theses Doctoral

Community Underdevelopment: Federal Aid and the Rise of Privatization in New Orleans

French-Marcelin, Megan

In 1974, the Housing and Community Development Act replaced traditional antipoverty programs with block grants, decentralizing decisions about federal funding, ostensibly to give more control to local administrators. Despite the pretense of providing greater flexibility, the focus of block grants on developing the city's physical environment circumscribed the options of local planners hoping to pursue comprehensive community development. Community Underdevelopment traces the struggle of government officials in New Orleans to fulfill the dual aims of alleviating poverty and spurring economic growth in a time of fiscal crisis. Armed with new social science techniques, planners believed that with accurate data collection and systematic planning, they could achieve these ends simultaneously. However, coping with an increasingly regressive tax regime and an anemic economy, they soon discarded this vision.
Instead, block grants were used as stopgap measures in low-income communities while the city pursued economic development strategies that administrators acknowledged would do little to improve conditions in those neighborhoods. By the end of the decade, the hope that the private sector could achieve what the public sector could not led the city to shift federal funds away from antipoverty measures and toward boosting private-sector involvement. Low-income communities in New Orleans struggled to resist this movement, but their efforts to do so went unsupported by local officials who feared that supporting resource redistribution would jeopardize relationships with private developers. Consequently, by the end of the 1970s, local urban development strategies had largely abandoned antipoverty aims. Rather than read this period solely as the precursor to President Ronald Reagan's unprecedented cuts to urban aid, Community Underdevelopment explores a steady shift in policy and ideology that created a political climate conducive to such dramatic reductions. Moreover, my focus on this period reveals that the movement to undercut antipoverty programs did not originate with the rise of the Reagan Revolution. Instead, it was from its inception a bipartisan assault.

Geographic Areas


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More About This Work

Academic Units
Thesis Advisors
Katznelson, Ira
Ph.D., Columbia University
Published Here
October 6, 2014