The world is coming to an understanding of the damaging impact of freeways on the fabric of cities. Everywhere but in Little Rock, Ark.
Here’s the latest, “How Highways Wrecked American Cities,’ from Vox, in what has been a continuing series of articles all over on the highway engineers’ decision to put freeways through the heart of American cities and the impact that had on our social fabric, both in devastated city neighborhoods and suburban growth. Quotes galore call to mind Little Rock’s own past experience and its headlong rush to continue past mistakes — through the 30 Crossing project for Interstate 30 — with as many as 12 lanes of concrete through the heart of a reawakening downtown. For example:
So why did cities help build the expressways that would so profoundly decimate them? The answer involves a mix of self-interested industry groups, design choices made by people far away, a lack of municipal foresight, and outright institutional racism.
“Highway engineers dominated the decision-making,” says DiMento. “They were trained to design without much consideration for how a highway might impact urban fabric — they were worried about the most efficient way of moving people from A to B.”
State and city politicians accepted these plans for a variety of reasons. In an era when suburbs had just begun to grow, DiMento says, “local politicians saw urban freeways as a way of bringing suburban commuters into city.” Some local businesspeople supported them for similar reasons.
But an unmistakable part of the equation was the federally supported program of “urban renewal,” in which lower-income urban communities — mostly African-American — were targeted for removal.
… The same pattern was repeated over and over, leading to cities pockmarked with empty neighborhoods and destructive highways. People displaced from the destroyed areas moved to others, leading to overcrowding and increases in crime, while most people with the means fled to the suburbs — commuting on the new highways, and siphoning money away from these cities’ tax bases.
And on it goes. We actually have members of the Little Rock City Board of Directors who think suburban commuters are more valuable than people who live here and add value to our property tax base, plus do most of shopping here.
There are alternatives. San Francisco stopped a freeway that would have obliterated what is now a booming waterfront. New York stopped a freeway that would have blasted Greenwich Village, today only one of the most expensive pieces of real estate on U.S. earth. Vancouver , a booming city with exploding property values, has no freeways at all.
Then there’s Little Rock. We keep building wider freeways through the heart of the city and big interchanges to move traffic faster to the suburbs. Ad we seem surprised when these steps only beget still wider freeways. And still we bow down to the highway engineers who created the mess. What is it they call doing the same thing over and over again expecting a different result?