Travel Grant Recipient’s discussion on Urban Redevelopment Policy in St. Louis

As archivists we always wonder how do researchers use the materials they find in the archives?  And what do they learn from these documents? 

Dr. J. Terrence Farris in Clemson University’s School of Planning, Development, Preservation and Landscape Architecture shared his experience researching at Washington University Archives in various St. Louis Mayors’ records last Thursday, June 14, at  “Research 101” a  brown bag discussion for librarians, archivists, and library staff focused on the research process of faculty and students.

Dr. Farris’ research is focused on Urban Redevelopment Policy in St. Louis—The Early Years and Beyond (1949-1991), a topic that he has much experience with since prior to shifting to academia in 1991, he had a 17-year planning consulting, homebuilding, and administrative career in St. Louis starting at Real Estate Research Corporation and concluding as Director of Development for the St. Louis Community and Economic Development Agencies for Mayor Vince Schoemehl.  Dr. Farris’ St. Louis roots run deep; his father, Charles L. Farris was the first urban renewal deputy director of the United States (1949-1953) and was the Executive Director of the St. Louis Redevelopment Authority from 1953-1966 and again from 1969-1988. In this position he worked with five Mayors and was responsible for many developments in St. Louis, including Busch Stadium and the Convention Center.

Item below show planning through implementation for LaSalle Park, a partnership between Ralston Purina and the city of St. Louis for revitalizing an urban neighborhood in the 1970s.


Appreciating history is important to Dr. Farris, and during his discussion he shared some lessons from urban renewal and implications for the shrinking city debate that he gleaned from his research both at Washington University Archives and the National Archives in College Park, Maryland.  He compared data found in the archives with more recent information in order to encourage everyone who is trying to revitalize cities to “see where you came from and appreciate it.”  He pointed out key problems with current urban renewal projects, which are similar to those faced in 1949: land assembly, demolition, environmental clean-up, new site improvements, tax delinquent land problems, preservation, relocation issues, extensive costs and the complexities of putting together varying sources of financing.

Dr. Farris stated, “what we do today is really just a nuance of history” and talked about how urban renewal planning and housing programs have evolved over the years.  Prior efforts included Urban Renewal and Model Cities evolving to an annual entitlement to the city through the Community Development Block Grant Program.  And housing programs have evolved from public housing to Hope VI redevelopment as well as many different approaches such as vouchers and tax credits.  Today’s policies and funding mechanisms are evolutionary from the 1937 and 1949 Housing Acts.

Dr. Farris found the Mayors’ records to be a treasure trove of information.  The records are very comprehensive of the work of each mayor had with various agencies, and include incoming and outgoing correspondence, reports, press releases, proclamations, speeches, subject files, and more.  He plans to continue to learn from the past in his research and is excited to pass this on to others through writing peer-reviewed research articles and a book on redevelopment history in St. Louis. He wants to be in the present debate for how to pursue revitalization in older areas, based partly on what we learned from the past.  And he finds it rewarding to be working on family history due to his father’s extensive experience in this field, both nationally and in St. Louis.

Dr. Farris says that so far, the most gratifying aspect of his research is seeing documentation from the late 1940s that indicates that the founders of the redevelopment movement understood a lot of the complexities that they were getting ready to face, and found it was easier to outline an effective program on paper than to implement it, especially given the many market forces beyond their control.

Dr. Farris is a recipient of one of the Department of Special Collections Travel Grants, a program that started in 2009 and provides financial support for faculty, graduate students, undergraduates, and independent scholars to visit any of the five units of the Department of Special Collections: Film and Media Archive, Manuscripts, Modern Graphic History Library, Rare Books, and University Archives.  Applications are accepted from January to March, with announcements of recipients in May.  For more information, please contact the Department of Special Collections at

About the author