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Gentrification through Housing: Urban Eugenics and Lawrence Veiller’s 1900 Tenement House Exhibition

Selma Siew Li Bidlingmaier

Pages 265 - 290



This publication is distributed under the terms of the Creative Commons License Attribution - NonCommercial - NoDerivatives 4.0. (CC BY-NC-ND 4.0)

New York City is currently experiencing a severe affordable housing crisis, and one of the main factors contributing to this problem has been commonly attributed to gentrification. Since the 1970s, Gentrification Studies have shed light on a wide range of issues but have not paid much attention to the history of housing in New York City. This paper traces inequitable housing development back to the Progressive Era when the home, specifically the tenement home, became the site of racial population management amidst mass immigration, rapid urbanization, the expansion of capitalism, and the growing fear of ‘racial suicide.’ Focusing on the Tenement House Committee (THC), under the direction of Lawrence Veiller, I will show how the organization’s strategic housing policies and the technologies it employed such as cartography, correlational statistics, and demographic methods, was utilized as a means of “urban eugenics” to produce a ‘fit’ and ‘abled’ citizenry and labor force. I will argue that in the guise of (scientific) philanthropy and attempts to solve the problem of ‘light and air,’ THC mobilized and equipped architects, social scientists, politicians, and prominent reformers to support a larger project of population control that would have long-lasting effects on the racial geography of the city and the nation.

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