Date of Award

Spring 5-15-2019

Author's School

Graduate School of Arts and Sciences

Author's Department


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)

Degree Type



This dissertation stands at the intersection of civil rights social history, political history, and urban planning. Among the first academic work to recognize the significance of the Model Cities War on Poverty program, this dissertation explores how residents tried to make American cities safe places for poor people to live as full citizens. It argues that neighborhood activists in St. Louis and around the country used the War on Poverty and Model Cities specifically to make a bid for a permanent role in city planning for their neighborhoods. This was no less than an attempt to alter the relationship between poor citizens and the state. The dissertation reveals that in St. Louis, low-income residents effectively infiltrated the municipal planning process, claiming expertise in their own communities and forming autonomous resident organizations that planned for themselves.

Though federal and municipal commitment to fostering citizen participation quickly waned, neighborhood activists in St. Louis successfully asserted their vision for their community through a series of resident-written comprehensive neighborhood plans that served for years as the primary expression of residents’ goals for themselves and their neighborhood. They designed and fought to implement self-sustaining housing and entrepreneurship programs to attack both the causes and effects of urban poverty. However, when faced with calls for permanent resident control of city planning, I argue that federal and municipal officials betrayed their promises to residents. By the mid-seventies citizen participation became a smokescreen for urban planners and government officials to justify their priorities rather than a true reflection of residents’ visions. Examining residents’ organizations and visions provides us clues to develop and implement plans that make working-class urban life viable today.


English (en)

Chair and Committee

Iver Bernstein Margaret Garb

Committee Members

Nancy Reynolds, Sonia Lee, David Cunningham, Patricia Heyda,


Permanent URL: