Race and Gender in Issues in Neighborhood and Residential Design









Founded as a trading center for mid-western merchants, East St. Louis was later transformed into a major railroad center by mid 19th-century.  The growth of the meat-packing, chemical, and metallurgy industries attracted increasing numbers of European and African American workers to the community.

The population peaked at 82,000 in 1950.

With the onset of post-war industrial abandonment, Federal highway programs, and business shifts from cities to suburbs, most of the city’s economic base had eroded by the 1970s.

The population decreased by almost half from 1960 to 1990.

Most of the city’s employed white residents migrated to more prosperous suburban communities.

Population shrunk by 12% from 1960-1990.  Population change resulted in lack of funds and an increased tax burden.

By 1990, East St. Louis was 98% African American.

A crumbling economy and a decreasing population created an almost 30% unemployment rate.  Despite its bleak situation, East St. Louis has shown tremendous will and resolve.  Many local residents are now actively involved in neighborhood revitalization.


Since the early 1900’s, the use of racial bias has punished African American families by generating housing, planning, and zoning policy to limit their access and rights as citizens.

The establishment of many different restrictive covenants and organizations in the past has created an urban structure that allows no room for minorities and poverty stricken communities to be placed in strong and productive urban settings.

The involvement of government-funded laws and planning acts have also hindered the development of these areas.

(Thomas, Ritzdorf)

In the post World War I era, the most striking feature of Black life was the barriers they encountered in trying to escape the ghetto.

These barriers included federal home ownership programs rooted in bigotry, the redlining of black neighborhoods, and their inability to find financing for old homes (new homes were not open to African Americans homeowners).

“Redlining” – the term coined to describe the practice, whereby real estate agents and mortgage lenders would draw red lines around areas on city maps where blacks lived.  Home loans were not made on properties in redlined areas because neighborhood house values were considered unstable.

Redlining runs high quality commercial institutions out of the neighborhoods and replaces them with less desired businesses.

(Bullard, Grigsby, Lee)

Village of Euclid vs. Amber Realty Corporation (1926)

A corporation that included white men with strong exclusionary views of African Americans and European immigrants.
Establishment of zoning as a tool for segregation
Racially restrictive covenants that enabled city realtors to limit home sales and rentals to Blacks and Jews. (Thomas, Ritzdorf)

Urban Renewal Policy (1961)

Systematically destroyed many African American communities and businesses.  Relocation of these communities took place which worked in conjunction with highway distribution.  This moved racial minorities from prime locations for redevelopment. 
(Thomas, Ritzdorf)

Urban League (1961)

Exemplified African American Leadership and response to planning throughout the 20th Century.  Sponsored day camps, food drives and employment programs.  Made efforts to document the initial abuse of Urban Renewal programs.  (Thomas, Ritzdorf)

President Lyndon Johnson’s “Model Cities” (1960’s)

His attempt to build a “Great Society” initiated new programs that focused on eliminating poverty and empowering low-income communities. Citizens gained the power to supervise community improvement directly.  Local citizen governing boards also helped direct local redevelopment  (Thomas, Ritzdorf)

Regardless of civil and women’s rights movements of the 1960’s, and the growth of the Black middle class, African Americans and women are still greatly under appreciated and underpaid.
(Thomas, Ritzdorf)

Urban Ghettos bear the burden of the racial history in cities, which have caused them to be excluded from resources generated by governmental development programs.  This necessitates a need for urban integration and collective intervention of all facets of a city for community revitalization. 

East St. Louis Action Research Project
University of Illinois @Urbana-Champaign
Studio Course ARCH 372
University of Illinois @Urbana-Champaign