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  • It's hard to picture American cities without the highways running through their core,

  • but highway removal projects, like this one in Boston, can give us a sense of how disruptive

  • it was when the US built huge highways through the cities after World War 2.

  • These new highways will have a far reaching economic impact on the entire nation!”

  • That was definitely true. Highways revolutionized the ways we transport goods. But inside cities,

  • they demolished and isolated entire neighborhoods, ...they gave wealthy taxpayers a way out of

  • the city and gave air pollution and traffic noise a way in.

  • And they redesigned urban life around the car: Now 85 percent of Americans drive to

  • work every day.

  • So why did American cities agree to build highways that were bad for cities??

  • It's a really interesting question, and part of it goes back to the 1930s, when a

  • group of auto interests such as General Motors and AAA formed something called the National

  • Highway Users Conference. They began lobbying for taxes that would help

  • fund highway construction. General Motors started to design what a new

  • highway system could look like. And they displayed that vision at the 1939 World's Fair with

  • Futurama”, an exhibit featuring expressways that not only connected cities, but ran right

  • through them. It was a design that allowed for more cars and less congestion.

  • By 1955, the Department of Commerce echoed GM's vision with something called theYellow

  • Book.” It laid out all the routes that interstates would take throughout the country under Eisenhower's

  • Federal Highway Act of 1956, which funded the national highway system.

  • A lot of it is logical, its connecting most of the US' major cities, but the really

  • interesting thing is that you also have highways slicing right through the downtowns of many

  • of these cities. Pretty much every major city in the countryNew York, DC, San Francisco,

  • Philadelphiayou have major

  • highways cutting through neighborhoods, requiring the demolition of lots of housing

  • and other sorts of buildings. That's largely because some of the key contributors

  • to the plan were auto industry membersbut no urban

  • planners. And that's because the profession barely

  • even existed at the time. Nowadays there's a value placed on preserving neighborhoods,

  • keeping cities intact, and that concept really just didn't exist in the 40s and 50s ... So

  • when people were talking about connecting the country with highways it seemed natural

  • to drive them through the centers of cities as well.

  • Local municipalities were particularly eager to build highways under this plan because

  • 90 percent of funding came from the federal government and the other 10 percent from states.

  • There's also a darker side to the reason why all these planners wanted to build highways through

  • downtowns and urban neighborhoods. Highways not only paved the way for more and

  • more white people to move into homogenous suburbs, they also provided cover for targeted

  • demolitions inside the city. During that era, federal policies and implicit

  • priorities in planners dictated that if you had vibrant dense downtown neighborhoods filled

  • mostly with African American residents, instead of being preserved under the plan, they were

  • slated as targets for removal. They were consideredblight,” and an easy way of getting rid of

  • that blight was by demolishing them and paving a highway through it.

  • "Neighborhoods and streetcars were pushed aside to make way for the automobile."

  • Look at the neighborhoods of Black Bottom and Paradise Valley in Detroit.

  • When you go back to the 30s and 40s, these are thriving, dense neighborhoods filled with

  • hundreds of thousands of residents, of businesses, and if you go back today, they're mostly

  • just empty grass plots. This wasn't just a historical accident,

  • it became a pattern in cities across the country. Poor and minority residents were displaced

  • to make way for highways, and white residents used those highways to commute into the city

  • for jobs and commute back home at night. The only exception to this pattern is in places

  • where highways were slated to go through wealthy neighborhoods.

  • There were actually proposals to put a highway through northwest DC. And through Greenwich

  • Village in Manhattan. But you can guess what happened there.

  • Anywhere where residents had the means to organize and protest, they were often able

  • to stop the highways from being built, whereas in places where residents didn't have the

  • political capital, and other sorts of privileges that allow you to do that, their neighborhoods

  • ended up being demolished, and they're now

  • highways today.

  • Even before he signed the Federal Highway Act of 1956 Eisenhower was

  • already a really big fan of highways in general.

  • Part of that has to do with his time in Germany during World War 2, where he realized

  • how important it is to have a good system of highways to transport goods and people

  • very efficiently. But it also has to do with this military road trip that he took in 1919,

  • where he went all the way from Washington, DC to San Francisco, California.

  • And that road trip took 62 days at the time. Today, it takes about 42 hours.

  • And part of that had to do with the state of cars at the time, but it also had to do with the state of roads

  • at the time.

  • After seeing that, he realized that 62 days was way too long to wait

  • in any situation where they might need to defend the country.

  • And that's where he became such a big fan of highways.

It's hard to picture American cities without the highways running through their core,

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How highways wrecked American cities

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    joey joey posted on 2021/05/18
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