Lyndon B. Johnson photo

Remarks at the Dedication of the Department of Housing and Urban Development Building.

September 09, 1968

Secretary Weaver, Members of the Congress, Cardinal O'Boyle, distinguished guests, employees of HUD, ladies and gentlemen:

First of all, I want to tell all of you in this new Department, the HUD, how very proud I am of your dedication, your diligent and constructive attention to one of the great problems of our time--housing our people.

Not long ago, I talked to a man who told me a story that touched me deeply. He and his young family, he said, had real problems getting on their feet. One of their biggest difficulties was finding a decent place in which to live.

"Mr. President," he said to me, "we paid high rent to several different landlords. We know what it means to be cooped up in overcrowded quarters. We just never could seem to find a place that was big enough for all of us. It has just been simply terrible."

But like so many other American stories, his had a happy ending. Today, thanks to the hard work and the help of your Government, things are looking a little better for Robert Weaver, and his 4,300 Washington employees in their new home.

I thank you for asking me to come here to dedicate a handsome and an original building and to call attention to all that it represents. The drab, gray Government building, I hope, has finally had its day. In its place, in city after city in this country, our citizens now can look forward to buildings of bold, modern, and excellent design.

What we are encouraging within Government we hope to foster in every area of American life. That is a deep concern not just for quantity and not just for size in our achievements, but for quality and for style as well.

This great structure symbolizes our hope. The work that you do here each day will deeply influence the quality of life in America, the shape of our homes, our cities, our daily lives, the lives of our children, and the kind of life they will lead tomorrow.

So you are giving new answers to pressing questions. Can America guarantee every family a decent and attractive home? Can America provide for all of our citizens neighborhoods which are lively and beautiful and safe? Can this great Nation of ours renew its urban areas, build cities which reflect a great civilization?

Until recently, the only honest answers to those questions would have been discouraging ones because for nearly a generation the poor came crowding into our cities, seeking opportunity but finding frustration. Those who could afford it fled to the suburbs.

For years most of us tried not to notice neighborhood blight, urban sprawl, snarling traffic, sooty air, and dirty water. For much of that time the Federal programs in housing and urban affairs were really nonexistent or if they were existent, they were at best token or aimed at the wrong problems.

Too often urban renewal forced the poor out of their homes and gave them too few new homes. So in our headlong rush toward wealth and toward bigness, we often ignored the damage that we were doing to the landscape of America, to the cities, and to ourselves. Now we have what is called in this country the crisis of the cities.

Today we have something else, too. We have finally made a commitment to try to overcome that crisis, a new outpouring of concern for the physical setting of life in America. For the first time we have a Department of Housing and Urban Development. For the first time we have in the General Services Administration, I am proud to say, an architecture review committee that is dedicated to obtaining excellence and beauty.

Today we have a rent supplements program, a model cities program, and some strong new laws to fight air and water pollution. We have a program of home ownership for the poor and we have enacted laws to create new parks and open spaces, and even to create whole new communities. For the first time we have a firm commitment by Congress to equal opportunity in housing.

Just a few weeks ago I came here in this very spot to sign into law the Housing Act of 1968, which we believe is the most far-reaching housing legislation that Congress has ever enacted in the history of this country. That law creates for the first time a National Housing Partnership, a venture which will enlist the resources of American business and labor in the effort to renew America.

I just came from a committee of business and labor leaders where we talked about those problems.

Today I am naming some of the most distinguished Americans who live in our country to lead this new venture, the incorporators of the National Housing Partnership. The Chairman will be the imaginative business leader who headed the President's Committee on Urban Housing, Mr. Edgar F. Kaiser. With him will serve the best men that American enterprise can provide in leadership, men like David Rockefeller and George Meany, Everett Mattson and James Ling, John Wheeler and Edward Daly, Edwin Etherington and Ernest Arbuckle and John Loeb.

Now the real building begins. The new America that we build must be more than bigger. It must be better. It must be more beautiful. It must be more orderly. It must be more liberating of life and more inspiring of the spirit. It is going to be a staggering job. We will have to set out to build more than 26 million homes and apartments in the next 10 years. That is almost another entirely new America.

The urgent question is not "can we build all of this?" but "can we build it better and more beautiful?" An environment of harmony and beauty cannot be a luxury. We think it is a necessity if we are to build new beauty and new order and new meaning into the lives of our fellow Americans.

It would be tragic for us to wear blindfolds while we build, to fail to see that the squalor of the rich can be as dreary as the squalor of the poor. We have the power to see and we have the duty to choose.

The highways that we build can be avenues to a more spacious and beautiful America or they can be ugly walls that seal off neighborhoods and scar the landscape and scar the lives of those who live there.

So, we Americans must decide---engineers and builders and State officials--the streets of our cities will either be pleasant and clean and well-lighted and beautiful places that are lively and inviting or they are going to be danger areas and they are going to be choked by cars and they are going to be prowled by criminals.

We must decide. We, the people, make the decisions, the Governors, the mayors, the citizens. The millions of homes and apartments that we build can be a tribute to our compassion and our imagination and our good judgment and our vision, or they can be just ugly filing cases for human beings.

We, the people, must decide: the architects and the planners and the educators. In short, our titles and our towns can serve our highest values, if we want them to, or they can be just joyless places. They can be just traps for the poor and the hopeless.

All of our programs of human renewal will serve us poorly if we fail to renew the physical setting of life in America.

So this decision is a decision for all of us, for every American: Presidents, Congressmen, Cabinet Secretaries, the press, the television, all the news media, every servant who pretends to serve America.

We have learned through the hard lesson of neglect and waste that when man brutalizes his surroundings, when he lays waste to his own life and spirit, when he throws together buildings that are tasteless and trivial, he confesses the poverty of his imagination.

If he lets his cities decay, he really tyrannizes himself.

But I hope we have learned a hopeful lesson. Man has the power to build an environment which can delight and which can inspire and which can liberate.

As we come here today in the shadow of this great edifice, in the presence of these new leaders of this new department, the men and women who have been brought together under a new Cabinet leader, we dedicate this building.

Let us dedicate ourselves and let us dedicate the great powers of Government and business and labor to creating such an environment. Let us all pledge to ourselves and to our fellowmen in America that our work and that our Nation in the future will always be like this building--bold and beautiful, useful to the greatest purpose of America, and inspiring of the great spirit of its people.

I hope somewhere we have left the kernel and we have planted the seed and the flower has come up and broken the dirt so that more Americans now with each passing year look for beauty in America and expect it of their leaders.

Note: The President spoke at 11:35 a.m. in the Plaza of the Department of Housing and Urban Development. In his opening words he referred to Robert C. Weaver, Secretary of Housing and Urban Development, and Patrick Cardinal O'Boyle, Archbishop of Washington.

For remarks of the President upon signing the Housing and Urban Development Act of 1968, see Item 426.

For a statement by the President upon nominating the incorporators of the National Housing Partnership, see Item 471.

Lyndon B. Johnson, Remarks at the Dedication of the Department of Housing and Urban Development Building. Online by Gerhard Peters and John T. Woolley, The American Presidency Project

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