Model Cities Program: Waco Urban Renewal

Created on June 18, 2024 at 11:00 AM

Aerial view of Downtown Waco in 1965
Downtown Waco in 1965. Baylor University Texas Collection.

In the 1960s, addressing poverty and urban renewal became top priorities in American cities. In 1966, as part of President Johnson’s Great Society and War on Poverty initiative, the Model Cities program was created to provide cities with federal funds to revitalize struggling urban neighborhoods through a combination of social services, infrastructure improvements, and resident participation. Just like many other cities across the country, Waco saw the Model Cities program as an opportunity to revitalize its own neighborhoods.

Waco's Model City

In November 1967, after a successful application, the City of Waco was selected as one of about 60 cities, and one of only four cities in Texas, to participate in the Model Cities program. The local program was managed by the City of Waco’s Department of Urban Community Development to be a “program of social, educational, and physical improvements needed in the City’s oldest and most troubled neighborhoods.” The model city area included all of East Waco and parts of South Waco to increase education, reduce unemployment, reduce crime and disease, strengthen family units and neighborhoods, and build a new heart for Waco.

Planning for the implementation of the program began in January 1968, and by June, City officials reported that about 500 Waco residents were participating in the final phase of the planning process. Waco City Council approved the plan in December, and in the following year, the program officially began. For each of the first two years, Waco received $2.6 million in federal Model Cities funds.

Lasting Improvements on Waco

The impact of the Model Cities program on Waco was significant. That impact was compounded when President Nixon launched the Planned Variation program in July 1971, which opened new avenues for federal funding that gave local entities more say in how federal funds are used. Over the five-year program period through 1974, $22 million in federal funds, along with an additional $49 million secured through matching grants, fueled a wave of improvements throughout Waco.

  • Dewey Center & Park early 2000s Community Centers: The program funded the Dewey Community center at N 9th St. and Waco Drive in North Waco, which still actively serves Waco residents. Other projects included the expansion of the Estella Maxey Place Neighborhood Center and the construction of the Branch Model Neighborhood Center in South Waco.
  • Public Safety: Recognizing the importance of public safety, the Model Cities program funded a police cadet program and a community relations program to foster better relationships throughout the community.
  • Transportation: The program provided Waco Transit System with funds to purchase 12 new buses.
  • Infrastructure: A significant portion of the program addressed longstanding drainage issues in East Waco and similar drainage and flooding problems in South Waco on Primrose Creek. Additionally, over 50 public works projects were completed, including street construction and improvements.
  • Airport: The program also funded the remodel of the Madison Cooper Airport, now known as the Waco Regional Airport.
  • Parks: Recognizing the value of green spaces in Waco, the program also funded upgrades to existing parks and the acquisition of land for future parks.

Success and Legacy

Waco’s Model Cities program succeeded due in part to the input and participation of Waco residents who worked together to use federal money along with additional sources to solve some of our community’s problems and needs. Fifty years after the program ended, evidence is still visible of the difference this program and its projects made to and in our city.


Application to the Department of Housing and Urban Development for a grant to plan a comprehensive City Demonstration program. 1967.

“Approval, money given 19 projects”. Waco News-Tribune, 14 May 1969, p. 1A

“Council OKs model city application”. Waco News-Tribune, 29 Mar 1967, p. 1

“Councilmen OK model city plan”. Waco News-Tribune, 11 Dec 1968, p. 1A

“Director named for Model Cities”. Waco Tribune-Herald, 6 Jun 1973, p. 5A

“Extra $4.6 million ‘delights’ officials”. Waco News-Tribune, 30 Jul 1971, p. 1A

“Federal fund projects OK’d”. Waco News-Tribune, 22 Sep 1971, p. 1A

“HUD approves $1 million grant to continue Model Cities work”. Waco News-Tribune, 6 Jun 1973, p. 1A

“HUD, Waco to map Model Cities program”. Waco News-Tribune, 17 Nov 1967, p. 1A

“Model Cities project sees end”. Waco Tribune-Herald, 30 Jun 1974, p. 1A

“Model Cities social planning covers 5 human service areas”. Waco Tribune-Herald, 30 Jun 1974, p. 5C

“Model City program brightens Waco”. Waco Tribune Herald, 26 Sep 1971, p. 2C

“Model city plan here to include 32 projects”. Waco Tribune-Herald, 4 Jul 1971, p. 5B

“Police to begin community program”. Waco News-Tribune, 22 Jul 1971, p. 9A

Royals, Ira. “Plan being developed for model city funds”. Waco News-Tribune, 4 Aug 1971, p. 1A

“Waco to bid for spot as demonstration city”. Waco News-Tribune, 21 Dec 1966, p. 8A