Last week in class we finished our discussion of Isenberg’s Downtown America. We started off the week discussing urban renewal. The goal of this movement was to update downtown in order to attract the white, middle-class housewife to do her shopping there. The Housing Act of 1954’s objective was to tear down housing in the city in order to expand commercial areas. Residents were rezoned into public housing projects. In this way, centers of shopping were concentrated downtown, which made it easier and more convenient for visiting shoppers from the suburbs. With the urban renewal movement, store fronts were remodeled to look clean and modern to customers. Downtown shopping centers were competing with suburban shopping malls to attract customers. Another threat to downtown store owners was the Second-Wave Feminist movement. A new idea of “true womanhood” was becoming popular. The true woman did not have time to shop all day! Women were now working more, and were not fulfilled by just shopping. Betty Friedman’s The Feminine Mystique urged women not to believe the stereotypes that were being forced on women.
Chapter 6 focused on desegregation in the 1950s and 60s and the uproar that was caused by it. Riots broke out all over the country. The commercial retail section was the heart of the protesting. Black protestors wanted merchants to treat them equally. They wanted opportunities to set up their own businesses and more equal hiring processes. White protestors, on the other hand, wanted to remain segregated. They used violent measures such as tear gas, bombs, dogs, and other forms of protest as a symbolic form of intimidation to shop owners and black protestors.
Both sides used boycotts to get their message across. Some groups of black protestors like SNCC (The Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee) and the Southern Christian Coalition used peaceful methods such as marches and lunch counter sit-in’s to get their voices heard.
Cities were destroyed by the violence of the riots. The term “The Riot Renaissance” refers to the rebuilding of downtown areas after the riots of the 1960s. With the expansion of urban renewal policies, opportunities for black business owners to open businesses surfaced.
By the 1970s, many whites had fled from the downtown centers to the suburbs. Chapter 7 and the epilogue deals with historic preservation and attracting customers back to downtown areas. The goal of historic preservation efforts is to create the nostalgic feel of “old downtown” to shopping areas. These kind of efforts can be seen in our own backyard! Downtown Fredericksburg is a pretty well-preserved town, that has taken many measures to retain the historical appeal of the city. Storefronts have been preserved, street-lights look like old gas lamps, and even trashcans look like wooden barrels.
Speaking of Fredericksburg… on Friday we read a few articles pertaining to battles between commercial developers and historic preservationists in the Spotsylvania/Northern Virginia area. There are debates regarding the future of our very own Fredericksburg. Many developers want to expand Fredericksburg, with projects such as a high-rise Marriot Hotel and a parking deck. Preservationists insist that we must respect the history of our town and protect it against expansion. This issue has played a big role in local politics, such as mayoral elections. Personally, I think that there are ways to continue to expand the city without taking away it’s history. A parking deck could be situated behind the main streets of downtown (like Caroline Street) closer to the river to alleviate parking issues. A parking deck could hardly be less of an eye-sore than “Wings on the Water” already is. I am interested in seeing how downtown shopping centers differ from suburban malls in terms of products sold, shopping environment, and clientele.