FDR’s Bad Bet on Aksarben

The “RA” mentioned in the passage quoted below, refers to FDR’s “Resettlement Administration” program.
“Aksarben” is much better known to Nebraskans today as a much-beloved, but now defunct, horse racing track in Omaha, than as Nebraska’s part in FDR’s government housing debacle.

(p. 69) With a staff of (p. 70) 13,000 and a mammoth $250 million to spend, Tugwell made plans for resettling thousands of tenants and marginal farmers into new model communities.

The result was a disaster. “It was all done awkwardly and wastefully,” Tugwell later confessed about the work of the RA. Even Roosevelt himself conceded, “I don’t think we have a leg to stand on,” when confronted with the high costs of the model towns Tugwell was building. Drawing model communities on paper was one thing, but it was another thing to relocate real tenant farmers into affordable houses far away in real towns with functioning services. One of Tugwell’s model communities was Arthurdale in West Virginia. A major problem there was that the ready-made houses could not fit their foundations. Once that problem was solved, the planners discovered that most residents, people from poor backgrounds, could not afford to live there. That protest became a common one in model communities all over the nation. Finding meaningful and profitable work for unskilled laborers was another recurring complaint.24
What that meant was that sometimes the RA had communities built, but no residents either willing or able to move in. An example of this was Ak-Sar-Ben (Nebraska spelled backward), a “dream city” of thirty-eight green-shuttered houses, each on seven acres of land twenty miles west of Omaha on the Platte River. The problem was that no one wanted to move in. Ak-Sar-Ben became deserted. Nearby farmer Henry C. Glissman observed this project and drew this conclusion: “I predict that in time these homes will all be abandoned and stand as a gruesome monument to a government’s inefficiency and folly in fostering a movement that to a practical mind has the earmarks of failure from the start.”

Folsom, Burton W., Jr. New Deal or Raw Deal? How FDR’s Economic Legacy Has Damaged America. New York: Threshold Editions, 2008.
(Note: ellipses in original.)

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