Author: Hilary Malson

Hilary Malson is a doctoral student in Urban Planning at the University of California, Los Angeles, where she researches community organizing, housing justice, and Black life.

Urban Renewal in Northern Virginia

Programs to expropriate privately held land from Black and mixed-race communities in Northern Virginia predate the establishment of federal urban renewal programs. In 1935, the Batestown and Hickory Ridge communities in southwestern Prince William County were destroyed after they were selected as the pilot site for the Roosevelt administration’s Recreational Demonstration Area program. In 1942, the Black communities of Queen City and East Arlington were seized under eminent domain and incorporated into the Pentagon’s road network. The City of Alexandria began a program of “slum” clearance in 1939 and two years later condemned and demolished homes in two mixed-race neighborhoods, The Berg and The Hump, sending Black residents into substandard, segregated public housing. In 1952, Alexandria annexed The Fort and Seminary, two semirural Black communities west of the city, and turned them into a park for white suburban residents and a public high school. In 1963, the Gadsby Commercial Urban Renewal Plan to develop Alexandria’s downtown core was approved; although it was eventually reduced in scale, it replaced African American-owned homes with the Andrew Adkins public housing development. The exception to this displacement in Alexandria was The Dip redevelopment project, which was completed in 1984 without displacing Black residents. Voters in Arlington, Falls Church, Rosslyn, and Clarendon turned down federal urban renewal funding for fear that it would lead to integrated neighborhoods and schools, limiting the impact of urban renewal in these cities.