Chicago Department of Urban Renewal Records
Scope and Contents
The Department of Urban Renewal Records (DUR) range from 1891 to 1992, with the bulk of the material covering 1950-1980. Documents were created and collected by the DUR, its predecessors and other Chicago city departments with duties related to planning and development. The DUR recorded the state of structures and neighborhoods in Chicago through studies, photographs and DUR-designated “study areas.” After collecting this information, the department decided whether an area would be conserved through subsidized remodeling projects or cleared for redevelopment and new construction.
The majority of the collection is comprised of photographs, contact sheets, negatives and slides of Chicago neighborhoods considered and targeted for improvement, including images that show buildings and neighborhoods that were subsequently razed. There are also papers related to the administration and documentation of the DUR land clearance and redevelopment initiatives. These documents include correspondence, memoranda, brochures, magazines, articles, maps, land use surveys, reports, schedules and press releases. Also appearing in the collection are images of staff members of the Department of Urban Renewal, the Chicago Plan Commission and other related City entities, and images of events, including meetings, hearings and groundbreakings related to various urban renewal and development projects. A few audio cassettes also appear.
- Creation: 1891 - 1992
- Creation: Majority of material found within 1950 - 1980
- Chicago (Ill.) Department of Urban Renewal (Organization)
- Chicago (Ill.) Department of Development and Planning (Organization)
- Chicago (Ill.). Department of Planning, City and Community Development (Organization)
- Chicago Plan Commission (Organization)
- Mead, Mildred, 1910-2001 (Person)
Conditions Governing Access
Materials are open without restrictions.
Conditions Governing Use
Please consult staff to determine ability to reuse materials from collection.
Biographical / Historical
The Chicago Department of Urban Renewal (DUR) was created through the combination of the Chicago Land Clearance Commission and the Community Conservation Board in 1962. This merger was the result of the State of Illinois Urban Renewal Consolidation Act of 1961, which required municipalities to create departments of urban renewal to manage projects and funding related to land clearance and redevelopment. However, Chicago’s long-standing interest in addressing the structural and demographic makeup of the city began earlier than the creation of the DUR, as evident through a 1939 Works Progress Administration enumeration study that documented dwellings by homeownership and racial demographics. These studies continued through the 1940s and 1950s.
Though the city continued to study land use and demographics, new building slowed drastically as attention was shifted to the war effort from 1939 to 1945. In the years immediately following World War II, Chicago faced new housing and development challenges. As suburbs developed, white, middle class residents moved out of the city in record numbers, resulting in lower property tax incomes and growing fear that “white flight,” and deteriorating neighborhoods, especially those close to the downtown business center, could pose a threat to the city’s economic future. Although the African American population had grown steadily throughout the Great Migration, from the 1920s to the 1940s, the vast majority of Blacks in Chicago lived in a limited area known as the “Black Belt,” located on the city’s South and West Sides. Overcrowding and lack of sanitation plagued many of these residences. After World War II, a national housing crisis exacerbated the urgent need for improved urban planning. Urban renewal was seen as a solution to these issues; city planners argued that if unsafe dwellings and objectionable businesses were removed, they could be replaced by improved buildings and raise property values at the same time.
Federal, state and local governments created legislation meant to safeguard the value of business centers and property tax bases while providing more modern structures for the city’s residents. The State of Illinois passed the Blighted Areas Redevelopment Act and the Relocation Act in July of 1947. These Acts gave municipalities broader rights of eminent domain and created state-level funding sources to demolish old buildings and construct new ones. The United States passed the Housing Act of 1949, assigning financial support to urban renewal projects and slum clearance, and was amended in 1954 to add funding for the rehabilitation of existing structures. The DUR (and its predecessor, the Chicago Land Clearance Commission) chose many neighborhoods as “study areas.” After collecting data and photographs, the DUR declared some areas “blighted” as a result of dilapidated buildings, overcrowding and outdated sanitation facilities. Some buildings in more stable areas qualified for conservation, which provided owners government funds to update structures. Areas deemed “slum” or “blighted” were often razed and replaced with public housing, private development or university expansions. In cooperation with the Chicago Housing Authority, the DUR facilitated the rapid expansion of high-density public housing projects in Chicago during the 1960s and 1970s.
Opponents of urban renewal claimed that the city’s pattern for redevelopment consolidated wealth and removed poor and minority residents from valuable real estate near downtown business districts at taxpayers’ expense and noted that public housing sites were chosen in racially segregated areas. In Chicago, activists such as Faith Rich of the Chicago N.A.A.C.P.’s Housing Committee questioned the criteria used for defining blighted areas and argued that slum clearance did not solve housing problems for those removed. Jane Jacobs’s 1961 book, The Death and Life of Great American Cities, critiqued the urban renewal movement as a continuation of existing racial and logistical problems in city planning. In 1963, author James Baldwin assigned Urban Renewal the pejorative nickname “Negro Removal.”
The DUR oversaw site clearance selection and assigned rehabilitation funds, but it did not retain ownership of cleared land. Sites were transferred to the Chicago Housing Authority or private organizations at a subsidized price after the DUR approved proposed plans. In 1974, the federal funding program supporting urban renewal ended and was replaced by the Community Development Block Grant program.
In 1992, the City of Chicago combined the Department of Urban Renewal with the Commercial District Development Commission to create the Community Development Commission.
41 Linear Feet (in 127 boxes (including 3 audio cassettes, approximately 16,000 photographic negatives, 35 boxes of photographic images, and 3 boxes of video reels), plus 1 oversize folder)
Language of Materials
The records in this collection were created and collected by the Department of Urban Renewal, its predecessors and other Chicago city departments with duties related to planning and development. The majority of the collection is comprised of photographs, contact sheets, negatives and slides of Chicago neighborhoods considered and targeted for improvement, including images that show buildings and neighborhoods that were subsequently razed. There are also papers related to the administration the Department's initiatives, publications related to planning and development, images of events related to various urban renewal and development projects and images of staff members of the Department of Urban Renewal, the Chicago Plan Commission and other related City entities.
The collection is divided into four series:
- Series 1: General Files, 1891-1985 (bulk 1950-1980), undated
- Series 2: Publications, 1919-1982, undated
- Series 3: Location Project Photographs, 1909-1992 (bulk 1950-1980), undated
- Series 4: Audiovisual, 1977-1981, undated
Immediate Source of Acquisition
These records were transferred to Chicago Public Library in 1998 and 1999.
Neighborhood names assigned by the DUR employees who created the index have been translated into the corresponding 77 community areas by the archivist. Montclare/Dunning and Hyde Park/Kenwood have been kept together because that is how the Department of Urban Renewal referred to the projects in those areas. Within Hyde Park/Kenwood, researchers will find addresses that are completely within Hyde Park or completely within Kenwood. Often neighborhood names are used that are no longer part of the general parlance. For instance, the records refer to “West Kenwood,” which is within the Community Area of Fuller Park. When the neighborhood name was used by the Department of Urban Renewal but is no longer recognizable to current day researchers, it has been placed in quotation marks. Other names, such as Bronzeville, do not appear in the records at all. Bronzeville locations are found in the Community Areas of Douglas, Oakland, Grand Boulevard, and Kenwood.
- Chicago (Ill.) Department of Urban Renewal (Organization)
- Bilandic, Michael A. (Michael Anthony), 1923-2002 (Person)
- Byrne, Jane, 1933-2014 (Person)
- Chicago Housing Authority (Organization)
- Chicago Land Clearance Commission (Organization)
- Chicago Plan Commission (Organization)
- Daley, Richard J., 1902-1976 (Person)
- Hill, Lewis W. (Person)
- Hollander, Elizabeth L., 1939- (Person)
- Illinois Institute of Technology (Organization)
- World's Fair (1992 : Chicago, Ill.) (Organization)
- Bilandic, Heather Morgan (Person)
- Community Conservation Board of Chicago (Organization)
- University of Illinois at Chicago Circle (Organization)
- Austin (Chicago, Ill.)
- Douglas (Chicago, Ill.)
- East Garfield Park (Chicago, Ill.)
- Englewood (Chicago, Ill.)
- Fuller Park (Chicago, Ill.)
- Grand Boulevard (Chicago, Ill.)
- Greater Grand Crossing (Chicago, Ill.)
- Hyde Park (Chicago, Ill.)
- Kenwood (Chicago, Ill.)
- Lincoln Park (Chicago, Ill. : City section)
- Loop (Chicago, Ill.)
- Lower West Side (Chicago, Ill.)
- Near North Side (Chicago, Ill.)
- Near South Side (Chicago, Ill.)
- Near West Side (Chicago, Ill.)
- New City (Chicago, Ill.)
- Oakland (Chicago, Ill.)
- Roseland (Chicago, Ill.)
- Uptown (Chicago, Ill.)
- West Town (Chicago, Ill.)
- Woodlawn (Chicago, Ill.)
- Guide to the Chicago Department of Urban Renewal Records
- Johanna Russ, 2018. Updated and ingested into ArchivesSpace by Johanna Russ, 2021.
- Description rules
- Describing Archives: A Content Standard
- Language of description
- Script of description
- Language of description note
- Finding aid written in English.
- 2018: Processed by CLIR funded Black Metropolis Research Consortium “Color Curtain Processing Project.” By Meghan Courtney and Dominique Fuqua, 2013. Re-processed by Johanna Russ,
Part of the Special Collections Unit at Harold Washington Library Center Repository
Harold Washington Library Center, 9th Floor
Chicago Public Library
400 S. State Street
Chicago IL 60605 United States