'How to decimate a city' — a big freeway | Arkansas Blog

'How to decimate a city' — a big freeway

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Reporting from around the U.S. continues to illustrate the tunnel visioin of the Arkansas highway department and construction boosters like the Little Rock Regional Chamber of Commerce and Vice Mayor Lance Hines in advocating ever wider freeways through the heart of Little Rock, plus widening freeways to help people get the hell out of here faster.

The latest is The Atlantic, with an in-depth look at crumbling Syracuse, N.Y. My headline is taken from the article, which begins:

Syracuse thought that by building a giant highway in the middle of town it could become an economic powerhouse. Instead, it got a bad bout of white flight and the worst slum problem in America.

In Syracuse, Interstate 81 cuts through the heart of the city, as I-30 cuts a poisonous gash through downtown Little Rock and North Little Rock. The description of neighborhoods along the elevated highway is bleak. Poverty and crime and decay. The article traces the decay to the decision to disrupt established neighborhoods with the freeway construction in the 1950s. It happened here, too, and we repeated the mistake with Interstate 630. In Syracuse, as here, whites have fled to the suburgs. And today, unbelievably, Lance Hines, the vice mayor of a city with a damaged school district (which the vice mayor shuns) says his main concern is helping people get to and from those suburbs quickly, no matter the cost to downtown.

In Syracuse, sprawl continues and they kept building more roads to help, making population pockets like Little Rock pay disproportionately for their own demise.

In Syracuse, the county executive wants to stop using the money of the county to send roads, sewers and other services (here we supply water without which the suburbs would be hard-pressed to grow) to outlying areas. In Little Rock, the vice mayor apparently thinks we haven't  done enough damage to ourselves yet. Strategies for improvement are hard to come by in Syracuse, as here.

But wait: Interstate 81 is nearing the end of its useful life.  The article concludes (with references that Vice Mayor Hines, Chamber CEO Jay Chesshir and Highway Department Director Scott Bennett would sneer at):

The elevated highway will almost certainly need to be torn down, because the overpass[think Arkansas River bridge] is narrower than current federal highway rules allow. Proposals include building a tunnel under the city, turning the road into a boulevard that runs through the city, and rebuilding the highway in a sunken corridor. Businesses and residents in the suburbs are vociferously opposed to any option that doesn’t include rebuilding the highway. But a group of planners and residents called Rethink 81 are urging the region to think more imaginatively about planning decisions that will have a long-term effect on the community. I-81 should never have been built, they say, and the city should not make a similar mistake again.

“We believe that too much of the city was sacrificed to make way for I-81 in the 1960s,” the group says, in a proposal. “Whatever option is chosen, it must not encroach further on the city or require the removal of even more of the city’s infrastructure and historic assets.”

The city now has a chance to revisit its past mistakes, or to do things again, almost exactly as it did before.

Hines, the chamber and Bennett don't even want to THINK about alternatives, much less actually build them.

I've been to Syracuse. We're not there. Yet.


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