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Urban triage: saving the savable neighbourhoods in Milwaukee

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During the 1970s, an era of increasing fiscal austerity and deindustrialization, cities across the United States sought to arrest the spread of urban disinvestment. In 1974, faced with similar concerns, Milwaukee, Wisconsin, implemented a two-part planning programme. First, planners conducted the Relative Residential Status (RRS) evaluation to assess, classify, and map neighbourhood health. The RRS map delineated three types of neighbourhoods: healthy, threatened but savable, and unsavable. Second, Preservation Planning prescribed policies and resources based on the RRS neighbourhood types, concentrating resources in the neighbourhoods classified as threatened but savable. The paper examines the implementation of RRS and Preservation Planning. I argue that RRS/Preservation Planning functioned as urban triage by seeking to bolster the housing market in moderately healthy, white neighbourhoods as it prescribed market-determined, inevitable death for less healthy, African-American neighbourhoods. The main point supporting this argument is that planners borrowed and recalibrated RRS/Preservation Planning to officially and systematically redline neighbourhoods that would have been judged savable in other US cities. In doing so, this form of urban triage exacerbated urban decline and racial injustice instead of arresting the spread of urban disinvestment.
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Keywords: Milwaukee (WI); redlining; urban decline; urban planning; urban policy

Document Type: Research Article

Affiliations: University of Houston–Clear Lake, HoustonTX, USA

Publication date: 01 October 2011

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