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Dissertation Proposal Defense: Jeremy Lee Wolin

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You are cordially invited to attend

the Dissertation Proposal Defense of Jeremy Lee Wolin


Model USA: Race, Poverty, and Architecture at the Fall of Urban Renewal


To be held on


Monday, February 13th, 11:30 am

Room S-118




Immediately following the anti-urban renewal protests of the mid-1960s and immediately preceding its 1970s disengagement from direct urban intervention, the United States federal government created the now largely forgotten Model Cities Program to combat poverty and racial discrimination. Model Cities differed from prior programs in that local groups and federal and city officials shared equal power over funds and that rather than physical renewal, Model Cities addressed multiple causes of poverty across health, education, and employment in what was called “human renewal.” Initially conceptualized in 1965 to work within primarily Black areas and in just six of the nation’s largest cities, by 1967 it would balloon to encompass over 150 model neighborhoods that also included immigrant enclaves across cities of all sizes, indigenous groups on reservations and off, and rural white communities. Yet by its end in 1974 and for decades after, politicians, academics, and organizers alike felt that Model Cities had failed to address the intertwined roots of poverty and discrimination. 


This dissertation moves beyond narratives of success and failure to argue that the divergent landscapes that Model Cities produced encapsulate the promises and pitfalls of the final era of progressive, engaged federal government known as the Great Society and are therefore central to understanding the era for historians, social scientists, and scholars of race alike. It does this work from within architectural history because Model Cities policy manifested in new modes of practice aligned with social services and community control, including reuse, participatory design, infrastructure, and mobile and temporary structures. To the field of architectural history, it also brings an interdisciplinary, relational approach to historicizing racialization. By doing so, it will demonstrate the program’s ultimately society-spanning impact: that a program first conceptualized to target poverty and anti-Black discrimination entered unexpected spaces and in doing so, reshaped the meaning of “model” based on the places and people upon which the label would land. 


Jay Cephas and Alison Isenberg