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The U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development’s HOPE VI program, launched in the mid-90s with support from CNU, pioneered a revolutionary approach to public housing development. Since then, the program has developed and renovated over 111,000 context-sensitive, sustainably designed units on 240 sites in cities throughout the U.S. Along the way, approximately 91,000 severely distressed public housing units—the built legacy of decades of underfunding and segregation—were demolished.
Twenty years ago, public housing was beset with severely distressed projects, many of them high rises, which were symbols of urban blight and despair. These projects, built on superblocks, were difficult to police—gangs often roamed freely on poorly defined public spaces. They were replaced, through HOPE VI, by low-rise, mixed-income, and sometimes mixed-use neighborhoods that look remarkably like good-quality older neighborhoods.
New Urbanists, who directly designed scores of HOPE VI developments and set the program’s design guidelines, restored street grids, used vernacular architecture, and mixed building types.
HOPE VI was launched in the mid-1990s, when the Congress for the New Urbanism was nascent and smaller than it is now—with about 600 members—but still influential. Henry Cisneros, HUD secretary at the time, visited Kentlands in Gaithersburg, Maryland, to discover how new urban ideas could improve public housing. He signed the Charter of the New Urbanism in Charleston in 1996. Despite the leadership at the top, success was not assured. HUD is a government bureaucracy with thousands of career employees, most of whom were not familiar with New Urbanism, who had to be trained and sold on the concept.
CNU's inner city task force, led by Ray Gindroz, established design criteria based on the Charter and organized training sessions and workshops for HUD employees of all disciplines. Through CNU's influence, the original HOPE VI Notice of Funds Availability specified New Urbanism by name, which guaranteed that many of the nation's top urban design firms would design thousands of units that were built in cities across the US.