Date of Award


Level of Access Assigned by Author

Campus-Only Dissertation

Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)




Howard P. Segal

Second Committee Member

Richard W. Judd

Third Committee Member

Nathan Godfried


This dissertation addresses a series of urban renewal projects in mid-twentieth century Bangor, Maine, a small Northeastern U.S. city situated at head of tide on the Penobscot River. It defines “urban renewal” as a series of top-down efforts to control and reshape the built environment for economic, sociological, political, and aesthetic reasons. This dissertation argues that the city successfully navigated a myriad of planning problems from the end of World War II to the mid-1980s, but that ultimately it was beholden to shifting commercial interests in completing its multiple renewal projects.

Throughout the twentieth century, Bangor served as a regional services center with a population of about thirty thousand. Development of a military air base within city limits during World War II changed the dynamics of the city’s economy, social life, and governance - and the effects were even more pronounced when the base was repositioned in the 1950s as part of the U.S. Air Force’s Strategic Air Command. The military presence highlighted shortcomings in the city’s housing stock, spurring calls for housing reform and, after the 1954 Housing Act, a campaign for development of an Urban Renewal Authority to address the issue. Further changes in federal housing law allowed civic leaders to broaden their planning beyond housing to embrace modernist notions of a renewed downtown retail district, which was presumed to be in decline and a drag on municipal property tax revenues.

But a federal decision in 1964 to abandon the air base just as the city was beginning its downtown renewal project jolted Bangor’s civic leadership. Bangor quickly decided to acquire and redevelop the air base, which covered one tenth of the city’s land area. Convergence of base reuse, retail renewal, and housing realignment in a small American city during this period provides a clear vantage point for assessing the role of individual agency at the municipal level, as well as the efficacy of federal prescriptions for urban restructuring and local needs.

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