“By the People Most Affected”: Model Cities, Citizen Control, and the Broken Promises of Urban Renewal

Washington University doctoral student Sarah Siegel (PhD 2019) utilized a number of archival collections from the Julian Edison Department of Special Collections in researching her dissertation, “By the People Most Affected”: Model Cities, Citizen Control, and the Broken Promises of Urban Renewal.

St. Louis in the 1960s

“By the People Most Affected” explores the Model Cities program in St. Louis and shows how the program was entwined in “civil rights social history, political history, and urban planning.” St. Louis was the first city to apply for federal grants through the Model Cities program, a facet of President Lyndon Johnson’s 1960s War on Poverty.

In St. Louis, projects were focused in neighborhoods on the North Side, including Old North St. Louis (then Murphy Blair), Montgomery Hyde Park, Carr Square, Pruitt Igoe, and Jeff-Vander-Lou (then Yeatman).

The Model City Target Area and Neighborhoods directly north of downtown and west of the Mississippi Riverfront. (“Application For Neighborhood Facilities Grant—Part I,” March 8, 1971 UMSL)

From the Archives

Among the many sources Siegel consulted were the extensive City of St. Louis, Mayor’s Office Records at Washington University Libraries. While these are a rich source of information for the Model City story, Siegel notes they tell only part of the story. There are inherent archival silences in the surviving written documents of our region’s history. Siegel therefore expands her sources, adding interviews and oral histories to ensure the voices of the neighborhood resident, the church organizer, and the everyday citizen are represented.

cartoon drawings

Cartoon accompanying Murphy Blair’s Comprehensive Plan (July 1968, Series 1 Box 41 Folder 6, Cervantes Records, WUA)


Thanks to Washington University’s Open Scholarship repository, this title and many more theses and dissertations are available in full text online for anyone to read.

The Future

Yes, posting something every day (ok, nearly every day) is overly ambitious, but that’s my aim now that virtual is our main way to communicate. Follow all the posts in this series at library.wustl.edu/tag/st-louis-history. #ArchivesAtHome

If you have a question about this post or other topics related to St. Louis history, I can be reached at mrectenwald@wustl.edu or on Twitter @mrectenwald.

Stay safe and healthy everyone.

About the author

Miranda Rectenwald is Curator of Local History, Washington University Special Collections. More info.