Talk about Braddock, Pennsylvania today and it’s a foregone conclusion that the town is a shell of its former self — both in economic terms and its physical landscape. Look back at these photographs collected as part of LBJ’s Model Cities Program (an element of his Great Society initiative), however, and the seeds of decline are evident as far back as 1967:
Part of LBJ’s War on Poverty in the mid-1960s, the Model Cities program was designated to integrate urban redevelopment with social services and employment programs. Allegheny County’s government spearheaded the regional program using photography to record local conditions between 1967-1969.
What’s curious here for Braddock, of course, is how the program was implemented. On the local level, did the Model Cities Program ever progress beyond the photographic documentation phase? From a visual perspective, it appears not. Contrast Braddock in 1966 (pictured above) with Braddock in the 1980s, and the trajectory of decline appears uninterrupted.
Many of the Model Cities projects are viewed, in retrospect, as failures. Not surprisingly, Detroit is often held up as a key example:
Detroit was considered by many as a test laboratory for President Lyndon Johnson’s “Great Society” programs. As was almost always the case, “Model Cities” was an ambitious federal urban aid program that ultimately fell short of its goals. Many argue the subsidization resulted in more of patronage benefits to City governments than real quality of life benefits to the urban poor. The programs also sparked strong resentment from suburban and rural residents which helped Nixon to flip many formerly Democratic voters in regions like Metro-Detroit and win the presidential election in 1968.