More on how highways were used to wipe out "blight" of non-white neighborhoods | Arkansas Blog

More on how highways were used to wipe out "blight" of non-white neighborhoods

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Futurama, a one-acre diorama built by General Motors for the 1939 World's Fair in New York promoting a network of highways.
  • Futurama, a one-acre diorama built by General Motors for the 1939 World's Fair in New York promoting a network of highways.

Vox, a news website that concerns itself with energy and other issues, has a fine piece, including before and after images, on the history of the U.S. interstate system and why roads were built through the middle of cities (unless people of influence stopped them — see Manhattan, San Francisco and Washington, D.C.) It's a remarkable history of available federal money for urban renewal and road building, the desires of the automobile industry, and the notion that blasting away neighborhoods would wipe out blight.

Author Joseph Stromberg writes:
State and city politicians accepted these plans for a variety of reasons. In an era when suburbs had just begun to grow, [Professor Joseph] 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 idea was 'let's get rid of the blight,'" says DiMento. "And places that we'd now see as interesting, multi-ethnic areas were viewed as blight." Highways were a tool for justifying the destruction of many of these areas.
Yet, as Stromberg illustrates, the destruction led to more blight, more crime and sprawl.

Highway builders will never be convinced that their dollars are better spent shuttling people around urban centers and supporting public transit. Quality of life does not fit into the equation. Thanks to the 30 Crossing project to widen I-30, Little Rock is about to relearn old lessons that didn't apparently didn't take the first time around — unless city leaders get the gumption to insist that alternatives that address vital urban issues are considered and tell the state highway department to back off.


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