• Concrete Leisure: Design and Public Space in the Wake of Urban Renewal
    Elizabeth M. Keslacy

Schervish, Vogel and Merz, Chene Park Amphitheater, Detroit, Michigan, ca.1986. Image reproduced with permission from the Walter P. Reuther Library, Archives of Labor and Urban Affairs, Wayne State University. Photo: Glen Moon

Twentieth-century American urban renewal programs had disproportionately negative effects on Black city residents, who were often displaced by modernist urban plans, infrastructure installations, and slum clearance programs. Following on the heels of white flight, many Midwestern cities elected their first Black mayors in the 1970s, who launched a new strategy of investment in leisure-oriented landscapes to rejuvenate declining city centers and transform industrial riverfronts into residential and entertainment zones. New public plazas, interactive fountains, and open-air amphitheaters constructed in a Brutalist idiom drew on Lawrence Halprin’s West Coast designs, but expanded his formal vocabulary and participatory methods. Concrete Leisure traces the genesis and reception of Cincinnati’s Yeatman’s Cove (Serpentine Wall and Concourse Fountain, 1976); Detroit’s Hart Plaza (1975), and Chene Park Amphitheater (1982–86); and Cleveland’s Chester Commons (1972) to examine the agency and limitations of architecture initiated by Black mayors to combat their cities’ ongoing urban crises.

Elizabeth M. Keslacy is an assistant professor of architecture at Miami University of Ohio. She is an architecture historian whose work deals with postwar and postmodern architecture, urban social movements, the museology of architecture and design, and the intellectual history of architectural concepts. She is currently at work on a monograph tracing the history of The Cooper Hewitt, Smithsonian Design Museum. Current research projects include “Concrete Leisure: Design and Public Space in the Wake of Urban Renewal” and “Unpacking the Archive: The People’s Movement in Over-the-Rhine, Cincinnati and the Struggle for Affordable Housing.” Her work has been published in the Journal of Architectural Education, Footprint, Thresholds, OASE, and Lotus International. Keslacy earned a master’s in architecture from the Southern California Institute of Architecture and a doctorate in architectural history and theory from the University of Michigan.