Public Housing and Urban Renewal Records in Reginald D. Tillson Papers

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A block-by-block planting plan for McDougald Terrace, built as a segregated African-American housing community in Durham.

Blog post contributed by Lindsey Naylor

Site and architectural drawings for several of Durham’s 1950s and 1960s public housing projects are some of the items being processed in the Reginald D. Tillson Landscape Architecture Papers, one of the newest additions to the Landscape Architecture Archive in NCSU Libraries’ Special Collections Research Center.

Tillson was a landscape architect who practiced out of High Point, North Carolina, from the 1920s to 1970s. He worked on a wide range of public and private projects, and the collection offers unique insight into the evolution of standard landscape architectural practice during decades of significant technological and social change.

1950s McDougald Terrace cover sheet, including the full list of proposed trees, shrubs, vines and groundcovers.

The Durham housing projects in Tillson’s collection date to the time of urban renewal, a planning movement that swept cities across the country following World War II and into the 1970s. Urban-renewal policies allowed the government to seize properties through eminent domain with the aim of clearing substandard housing and replacing them with redesigned, revitalized neighborhoods.

A proposed garden for public housing at Gary and Mozelle Streets.

Today urban renewal is seen widely as having ushered in a wave of planning missteps that resulted in irreparable disruption of the urban fabric and the traumatic dislocation of primarily African-American communities. In Durham, urban renewal included the construction of the NC 147 freeway through the middle of Hayti, a once-prosperous African-American commercial and residential neighborhood that had an urban street grid and historic structures.

Pre-urban-renewal view of the Hayti-area street grid.

Urban-renewal plan for the Hayti area.

Tillson’s collection includes his 1950s and 1960s work on Durham housing projects NC 13-1 (Few Gardens), NC 13-2 (McDougald Terrace), NC 13-4a (at Gary and Mozelle Streets), NC 13-4b (at Drew Street and Hyde Park and Mallard Avenues) and NC 13-7 (Cornwallis Road). The collection also includes copies of the Durham Redevelopment Commission’s urban-renewal plans for project NC R-7, the Hayti-Elizabeth Street Renewal Area.

Tillson contributed grading, utilities, planting and general development plans for each of the housing projects. At least portions of all but the Few Gardens site remain standing. Today it appears that Tillson’s planting plans -- including shade trees, flowering trees, shrubs and groundcover -- were never fully implemented, particularly at McDougald Terrace, which was built as a segregated African-American housing community.