The following comments about Urban Renewal were written in 1968 by then Executive Director of New York State Council on the Arts, John B. Hightower. His comments appeared as a forward to a publication on the first three years of Binghamton's Commission on Architecture and Urban Design (CAUD).
Syracuse University, under the Technical Assistance Program of the New York State Council on the Arts
Binghamton, New York
Renewal in recent years has come to be feared more than sought. Under the guise of progress, massive chunks of New York State's earlier architectural beauty have been ripped out and rebuilt into dye-cut models of banality. Cities which took more than a hundred years to form and grow into themselves have been totally rearranged. New cities have failed to develop around people temporarily transplanted from the downtown hearts of old ones.
The constant threat of systematic, relentless destruction is more pernicious and more profound than perhaps we can immediately comprehend. The sense of impermanence that results from this "legalized vandalism" leads to a disrespect of some basic social fibers - order, the right of property, the integrity of the law, to name a few. The result is blight, disrepair, squalor - and often riot.
Obliteration of buildings planned with care often goes hand-in-glove with a total disregard of architectural standards for the new. The number of instances in New York State where distinctive architecture of the past has been replaced with its contemporary counterpart is pitifully small.
Public outrage has not been altogether silent. Among the first conscientious and responsible attempts in the State to provide a formal municipal mechanism of concern for the character, quality, dignity, and appearance of a city was the Binghamton Commission on Architecture and Urban Design. The Commission has acted as a collective conscience in working with the Urban Renewal Agency and other regular municipal agencies to determine whether a renewed Binghamton will be beautiful or ugly. The New York State Council on the Arts felt that the existence of the Commission was significant enough to warrant a publication about its formative stages and some of the challenges it has met. Because the concept is courageous, it is also hazardous; what works in Binghamton may not work in other areas of the state. However, the experience of the Binghamton Commission on Architecture and Urban Design under its remarkable chairman, Mrs. David Levene, will certainly be of interest to other communities in New York and other states. Some of the formative planning may be adaptable elsewhere; all of it will, hopefully be provocative enough to encourage the efforts of those who recognize the urgency of improving the visual quality of our surroundings.
John B. Hightower
Copyright 2010, Roger Luther, All Rights Reserved