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Making a Better World

Public Housing, the Red Scare, and the Direction of Modern Los Angeles

2005
Author:

Don Parson
Foreword by Kevin Starr

Making a Better World

Chronicles the demise of public housing and social reform

With sharp historical perspective, Making a Better World traces the rise and fall of a public housing ethic in Los Angeles and its impact on the city's built environment. Don Parson's examination not only gives us the recent history of a city but also opens up a new debate on a current national crisis in providing shelter for low-income Americans.

A thoroughly researched study that can also serve as a catalyst to corrective and creative action.

Kevin Starr

During the 1990s, Los Angeles—like many other cities across America—began demolishing public housing projects that had come to symbolize decades of failed urban policies. But public housing was not always regarded with such disdain. In the years surrounding World War II, it was a popular New Deal program, viewed as a force for positive social change and supported by a broad coalition of civic, labor, religious, and community organizations. Socially conscious architects and planners developed innovative and livable projects that embodied the latest theories in urban design. With sharp historical perspective, Making a Better World traces the rise and fall of a public housing ethic in Los Angeles and its impact on the city’s built environment.

In the caustic political atmosphere of Joseph McCarthy’s America, public housing opponents accused the city’s housing authority of communist infiltration, effectively eliminating the left from debates over the city’s development. In place of public housing, conservative forces promoted a pro-private growth agenda that redefined urban renewal and reshaped modern Los Angeles. No conventional public housing projects have been constructed in Los Angeles since 1955.

In this era of skyrocketing housing prices, especially in urban areas, Don Parson’s examination not only gives us the recent history of a city but also opens up a new debate on a current national crisis in providing shelter for low-income Americans.

Making a Better World

Don Parson is an independent scholar based in Thousand Oaks, California. He is the author of numerous articles on urban politics, planning history, and housing.

Kevin Starr is professor of history at the University of Southern California and state librarian emeritus. He is the author or editor of many books, including the six-volume Americans and the California Dream series.

Making a Better World

A thoroughly researched study that can also serve as a catalyst to corrective and creative action.

Kevin Starr

Parson’s consideration of how a public enterprise could help “build a better world”—a book some twenty-five years in the making—arrives not a moment too soon.

California History

Does a good job tracing the public housing battles in Los Angeles and effectively documents the role of the left in the housing movement.

Western Historical Quarterly

Parson’s study offers a further layer to our understanding of the development of Los Angeles during this critical period in the last century, and of the politics of urban planning, highlighting the way the built environment carries the legacies of political battles in the past.

Journal of American Studies

Don Parson has written an important book, fascinating in the details. Parson’s book will be the reference point now and for years to come in understanding this history.

Housing Studies

Don Parson presents a scrupulously researched account of how real estate interests and right-wingers put a stop to public housing in Los Angeles. This book is a thought-provoking and very detailed look at a history that happened in different ways in all American cities, and has affected the practice of planning ever since.

Planning

Making a Better World is a powerful history of the politics of space.

Area: The Geographical Journal

All U.S. urban historians should read this book.

American Historical Review