The Haight Ashbury of the Midwest?


Randy Stoecker wrote a fascinating book looking at the struggles of the 1970s, from the perspective of the early 1990s. Defending Community: The struggle for alternative redevelopment in Cedar-Riverside goes from the battles over the construction of Riverside Plaza (then called Cedar Square West) in the early 1970s to the rent strikes of the late 1970s, and community organizing in Cedar-Riverside throughout the 20-year time span. Protests against Cedar Square West stopped the project with the construction of Riverside Plaza – the rest of the New Town in Town project was never built.

Writing about the early days:

Much of this ideology was developed by the hippies in the neighborhood. But anti-war activists were also settling in the neighborhood. The early ideological disputes between these factions involved issues more than broad-ranging political programs. The hippies mobilized to save their neighborhood, while the antiwar activists focused their energies on stopping the war in Vietnam. …And then HUD Secretary George Romney’s plans to dedicate Cedar-Square West gave material presence to the developing community ideology beginning to understand the common role of the military-industrial complex in domination and exploitation both at home and abroad.

In the second period of the movement the cry for basic citizen control of the neighborhood became the most obvious outward expression of the community ideology.

Twenty years on, the neighborhood has changed substantially – but his analysis of the “struggle between capital and community” still raises important questions.

You can order the book from Temple University Press, which has a book blurb saying that Cedar-Riverside was “nationally known for a period as ‘the Haight-Ashbury of the Mid-West.” It appears that you can also read large chunks of the book on Google, though I’m not sure how that works with copyright laws. 


High-rise ghettos or urban villages?
Are the Riverside Plaza and Seward high-rise apartment complexes, home to low-income residents for more than 35 years, “beyond merely shabby” and filled with crime? Or are they “a vital and fascinating mix of cultures … a series of villages in the city with the opportunity to begin life in the United States among one’s countrymen?” Our series highlights concerns and facts, featuring the voices and stories of people who live and work in the communities. Click here for links to all of the articles in the series.