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Old Posted Nov 12, 2021, 4:30 AM
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The racist history of America’s interstate highway boom

The racist history of America’s interstate highway boom

Liam Dillon, Ben Poston
Los Angeles Times
November. 11, 2021

When President Eisenhower created the U.S. Interstate Highway System in 1956, transportation planners tore through the nation’s urban areas with freeways that, through intention and indifference, carved up Black communities. Overall, within the first two decades of highway construction alone, more than 1 million people had lost their homes nationwide.

In Nashville, civic officials added a curve to Interstate 40 in 1967 to avoid a white community in favor of knocking down hundreds of homes and businesses in a prominent Black neighborhood. Highway planners in Birmingham, Ala., did the same thing when routing Interstate 59.

After Ku Klux Klan leaders and others destroyed the Greenwood neighborhood of Tulsa, Okla., a century ago in the nation’s deadliest race massacre, residents quickly rebuilt the commercial area renowned as “Black Wall Street.” But the neighborhood was demolished for good when Interstate 244 and U.S. 75 were built through its center in 1971.

At multiple points, the east-west path of Interstate 10 through Los Angeles County gobbled up distinct Black and Latino neighborhoods.

In Boyle Heights, freeways including the 135-acre East Los Angeles interchange — one of the busiest in the country, where Interstates 5 and 10, U.S. 101 and State Route 60 all meet — pushed out at least 10,000 people in what was a Mexican and multi-ethnic community in the 1950s and ‘60s. In South Los Angeles, a well-off Black area called Sugar Hill was bulldozed. Then, to build Interstate 10’s terminus by the Pacific Ocean in Santa Monica, engineers leveled the Pico neighborhood, forcing the city’s pockets of Black, Mexican and Japanese residents to leave.

All this occurred not only because of explicitly racist decision-making, but also because of how race influenced the nation’s housing and economic policy at the time, said Eric Avila, a history and Chicano studies professor at UCLA and author of multiple books on urban freeways.

The highway program worked in concert with contemporary urban renewal efforts, which aimed to do away with housing and businesses that were deemed substandard and replace them with new development and easy commute routes for newly minted suburbanites.

But those new suburban residents were almost entirely white. Discriminatory real estate practices and low-interest loans made available only to white residents blocked others from moving to new subdivisions. By contrast, highway builders often defended taking property in Black neighborhoods by arguing the land was cheapest there — a fact that relied on government-backed mortgage redlining policies that discouraged investment in Black areas.

“Black neighborhoods were considered to be blight. They were considered to be slums,” Avila said. “The dominant perspective of the time was to eradicate blight, to get rid of slums. These neighborhoods were simply wiped out without any efforts to remediate the damage that was done.”

Another reason highways went through Black and Latino neighborhoods was political power. As widespread backlash to freeway construction grew in the late 1960s, white communities often were able to block the roadways or get them rerouted.

Across Southern California, freeways that paved over Black and Latino neighborhoods — such as Interstates 5, 10 and 110 — were completed, while those proposed to cross whiter, more affluent areas in Reseda, Laurel Canyon and Beverly Hills were stopped.
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Old Posted Nov 12, 2021, 4:53 AM
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Nothing unique about highways. Let's face it: America has a lot of racism in its past. Most people understand that. But it is also working harder than almost any other country to repair the damage. That includes what highways through black neighborhoods did. The new Infrastructure Law actually has significant funds to tear down the most egregious neighborhood-splitting examples.

And it isn't just highways:

Exhibit sheds light on railways’ discriminatory history

Pullman sleeping car porters before the 1960s may have been the most segregated job category of all. They were basically all black. You can see that as good (jobs for black people) or bad (since they were all black, they were probably underpaid and mistreated by management) as you wish.

And of course most people know about the use and abuse of Chinese who built much of the westerns railroads and their eastern brothers, the Irish who did much the same on the other side of the continent.
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Old Posted Nov 12, 2021, 12:12 PM
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Originally Posted by Pedestrian View Post
Nothing unique about highways. Let's face it: America has a lot of racism in its past. Most people understand that. But it is also working harder than almost any other country to repair the damage. That includes what highways through black neighborhoods did. The new Infrastructure Law actually has significant funds to tear down the most egregious neighborhood-splitting examples.
And it isn't just highways....
Let's face it, America continues to have a lot of racism today and will far into the future. It is human nature to fear strangers, no matter what the color of their skin is. Having a different skin tone and using a different language automatically makes you a stranger.

Highways, by themselves, are not racists because they have no feelings, they are just things that are not, have never been, nor will ever be "alive".

Too many people always look at things with a negative outlook. Take interstate freeways as the example because that is what this thread is all about. Did they get routed through black neighborhoods 70 years ago? Yes. Did they get routed through white neighborhoods 70 years ago? Yes. Did they get routed very near existing highways? Yes. Did they existing highways get routed very near existing railroads? Yes. Did the freeways, highways, and railroads cross the nation, through mountains, through deserts, through forests, through prairies, through swamps, through ranchlands, through farmlands, through reservations, through parks, through towns, through cities, and over waterways? Yes. Was there anywhere in general within the USA where freeways did not go at all? No.
As I look around America, I see economic developments scattered across America. I see commercial real estate, industrial tracts, residential neighborhoods, downtown business districts, warehouses, retail stores, airports, seaports, and everything you can imagine. What do I see interconnecting them everywhere? Roads, highways, railways, and freeways.

The free movement of goods and people is important economically. When free movement of goods is slowed, for whatever reason:
a union strike at a seaport, a ship blocking a heavily used canal, a bridge across a river being closed because it needs repairs, a railroad, road, highway, or freeway closed because of a landslide blocking traffic, street lane closing for repairs, a power outage killing the functionality of traffic lights, a slow down of traffic for any reason.........the economy takes a hit.

And when there is an economic recession underway, people are hurt. Less goods to sell, less goods get made, less raw materials are needed, less jobs are needed, etc.

Now lets look at it with a positive outlook. A better ability to move goods means a potential better economy, more goods to sell, more goods get made, more raw materials are needed, more jobs are needed, everyone should be happier. Including everyone in those black, white, red, yellow, brown, green, purple, gray, orange, and blue neighborhoods where freeways were built 70 years ago.

Everyone will be much happier if you forgave what happen in the past and looked at what we can do together in the future.
Stop being a victim of the past, start being the solution for the future.
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  #4  
Old Posted Nov 12, 2021, 3:18 PM
jmecklenborg jmecklenborg is offline
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In the 1950s and 1960s, the black residents of city neighborhoods were overwhelmingly tenants, not property owners. So they simply shifted to renting in other neighborhoods. These new neighborhoods were often former middle class or even upper class neighborhoods. In my city, many displaced blacks moved from mid-1800s row houses to high-end early-1900s single-family homes and apartment buildings.

All of the chatter about highway displacement ignores that far, far more whites were displaced and that they were much more likely to own affected properties and to receive minimal compensation beyond the appraised value of their homes. There were many other types of government projects that also destroyed majority-white towns. Reservoir lakes are an obvious one - another is military installations. I mean, nobody in the coastal media cares about the massive displacement of Indiana farm families for the Jefferson Proving Ground: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Big_Oa...ildlife_Refuge

Just imagine if a bunch of black farming families had been booted for the same purpose. We'd never hear the end of it. The white yuppies would have signs in their front landscaping letting us know how much they care. They'd wear t-shirts to the farmer's market.
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Old Posted Nov 12, 2021, 3:35 PM
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Quote:
Originally Posted by craigs View Post
The racist history of America’s interstate highway boom

Liam Dillon, Ben Poston
Los Angeles Times
November. 11, 2021

THING IS RACIST, EVERYHING IS RACIST
This stuff is boring, If eveyrthing is racist then nothing is racist.

QUICK TEAR UP ROADS BECAUSE OF RACISM!!!! QUICK DESTROY CARS CAUSE OF RACISM! QUICK DESTROY THE NATION BECAUSE RACISM.

Nobody cares, this is all just academic masturbation.
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  #6  
Old Posted Nov 12, 2021, 4:59 PM
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Originally Posted by Obadno View Post
This stuff is boring, If eveyrthing is racist then nothing is racist.

QUICK TEAR UP ROADS BECAUSE OF RACISM!!!! QUICK DESTROY CARS CAUSE OF RACISM! QUICK DESTROY THE NATION BECAUSE RACISM.

Nobody cares, this is all just academic masturbation.
Was waiting for this response. it doesn't disappoint.
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  #7  
Old Posted Nov 12, 2021, 6:40 PM
jmecklenborg jmecklenborg is offline
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Originally Posted by Obadno View Post
Nobody cares, this is all just academic masturbation.

What's crazy is that I remember doing a lot of reading on this stuff when I was in college in the 1990s. All of this stuff was well-researched and well-documented by then. Kenneth Jackson's Crabgrass Frontiers, for example, which discussed redlining and discriminatory lending at length, was published in 1987 or 1988. FWW to 2020 and I had the 20 year-old marchers heckling me and I'm like...I read about this crap, discussed/wrote about it in class, and moved on with my life, quite literally, before you were born.
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Old Posted Nov 12, 2021, 6:50 PM
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Originally Posted by kingkirbythe.... View Post
Was waiting for this response. it doesn't disappoint.
Its a reductive ad absurdum analysis that just leads into a spiraling drain of sophistry.

its not productive and the only thing that can be gleaned form these racial analyses is.... what? What is the "highways are racist" supposed to inform us to do? Repent? give money to people? what?

Its stupid. rivers of ink and the lives of great thinkers sucked into a black hole of racial analysis for no reason other than to lament that the past wasn't like today.
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  #9  
Old Posted Nov 12, 2021, 8:56 PM
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Old Posted Nov 13, 2021, 4:51 PM
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Originally Posted by kingkirbythe.... View Post
Yes, exactly
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  #11  
Old Posted Nov 13, 2021, 5:40 PM
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Originally Posted by Obadno View Post
Its a reductive ad absurdum analysis that just leads into a spiraling drain of sophistry.

its not productive and the only thing that can be gleaned form these racial analyses is.... what? What is the "highways are racist" supposed to inform us to do? Repent? give money to people? what?

Its stupid. rivers of ink and the lives of great thinkers sucked into a black hole of racial analysis for no reason other than to lament that the past wasn't like today.
Not productive? It's highly productive and its importance can be argued on a purely utilitarian basis.

First of all, you learn from past mistakes to avoid making future ones. It's not like the country is "finished" and all infrastructure has already been built. There will be future infrastructure projects, both road and otherwise and it's important to approach them in ways that minimize harm. The same way you would learn from more technical or engineering mistakes leading to things like bridge failures, you learn from mistakes in the realm of culture and society.

The second aspect is that it's important to place all the facts on the table to inform general policy decisions whether or not they relate directly to infrastructure. With any policy intended to help disadvantaged groups, discussion always arises with people arguing that the group doesn't need or deserve any help because their problems are somehow all their own fault. Whether as individuals or groups, they're not sufficiently ambitious, intelligent, moral, hard-working etc. and therefore they're just naturally at a disadvantage and therefore no intervention is warranted. Over the centuries we've heard this at various times about women, different racial/ethnic, groups, religions, nationalities, etc.

Yet in cases like what the article discusses, the infrastructure that destroyed and divided communities mostly still exists, mostly still divides the effected communities, and still subjects certain people to harmful externalities (like air and noise pollution) at greater rates than others. Not just as a coincidence, but because of active systemic policy decisions. So it isn't just an issue of things in the past such as slavery but, but rather the present world.

Yet there are many people arguing that any systemic discrimination is in the past and has no relevance today. And I'm not talking about years ago; I hear this stuff on a regular basis now. It's important to shut down such spurious argument if there's any hope of effective policy passing. Not that it's possible or practical to reverse all the damage, but there are ways to improve things. But as with most things, the first step is acknowledging that you have a problem.
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Old Posted Nov 13, 2021, 6:47 PM
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I heard that Eisenhower actually never intended to have highways run through big cities. It was not his vision.

It was actually congress that wanted that and was the main selling point of the legislation.

This country is a sad sack of disgrace.
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Old Posted Nov 14, 2021, 12:23 AM
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Yes, exactly
Its good that you can laugh at yourself for your own ridiculousness.



Good for you.
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Old Posted Nov 14, 2021, 1:25 AM
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don't forget displacement and economic benefits were just side effects of the interstate highway system.

the main purpose was to keep america flexible and able to move from one end of the country to the other in the case of the cold war becoming hot.
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Old Posted Nov 14, 2021, 4:32 AM
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I heard that Eisenhower actually never intended to have highways run through big cities. It was not his vision.
It was actually congress that wanted that and was the main selling point of the legislation.
This country is a sad sack of disgrace.
I remember the 1950s and 1960s very well. The main political power for highways back then and still today was/is the Trucking Industry and the Teamsters Union. In the 1950s, most of the major warehouses were located near central business districts and railroad yards. That's why the highways were routed near central business districts and near railroad yards, that's where the truckers wanted to go. And of course, commuters and automobile drivers did not really want all the semi tractors and their trailers just on city streets. Golly, the States maintain the freeways, not city streets.

Today, many of those warehouses have moved away from the city centers to the bypass loop freeways and truck bypass highway routes. Small trucking distribution centers near railroad yards have been replaced by truck stops and adjacent shops targeting the trucking industry on the bypasses. So the need to have interstate trucking industry routed to near downtown is less than when the freeways were designed and built. But back then that need was far higher.

I strongly believe that even today the trucking industry has a huge impact on which highways are improved with additional lanes. It has always been economics at play, not racism, deciding where freeways were built.
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Old Posted Nov 14, 2021, 7:12 AM
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Originally Posted by Nouvellecosse View Post
Yet in cases like what the article discusses, the infrastructure that destroyed and divided communities mostly still exists, mostly still divides the effected communities, and still subjects certain people to harmful externalities (like air and noise pollution) at greater rates than others. Not just as a coincidence, but because of active systemic policy decisions. So it isn't just an issue of things in the past such as slavery but, but rather the present world.
Wealthy people are building new, expensive homes right next to the interstate highways in Nashville and other growing cities:
https://www.google.com/maps/@36.1510...7i16384!8i8192

At least 100,000 wealthy people live right next to freeways in Los Angeles, the New York metro area, etc.
https://www.google.com/maps/place/Lo...4d-118.2436849

Indian-Americans and East Asians earn upwards of 2X more than the average white household. Are they oppressing whites by some "systemic" mechanism? https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_o...usehold_income

All of this b.s. that took over urbanist writing in the last 3-4 years is rooted in writing from the 1980s and 1990s. It's wildly outdated, but it get clicks. If it clicks, it leads.
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Old Posted Nov 14, 2021, 7:19 AM
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Originally Posted by electricron View Post
I remember the 1950s and 1960s very well. The main political power for highways back then and still today was/is the Trucking Industry and the Teamsters Union. In the 1950s, most of the major warehouses were located near central business districts and railroad yards. That's why the highways were routed near central business districts and near railroad yards, that's where the truckers wanted to go.
Trucking was promoted in order to break the railroad monopolies. The highways caused the Pennsylvania Railroad to go bankrupt in 1970, the biggest bankruptcy in U.S. history until Enron.

It was a completely unfair situation - the railroads had to build, maintain, and pay tax on their roads. The trucking companies didn't. The interstate highways do not pay property tax to their localities and the maintenance is subsidized by federal grants outside the fuel taxes.
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Old Posted Nov 19, 2021, 2:17 AM
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Originally Posted by jmecklenborg View Post
In the 1950s and 1960s, the black residents of city neighborhoods were overwhelmingly tenants, not property owners. So they simply shifted to renting in other neighborhoods. These new neighborhoods were often former middle class or even upper class neighborhoods. In my city, many displaced blacks moved from mid-1800s row houses to high-end early-1900s single-family homes and apartment buildings.

All of the chatter about highway displacement ignores that far, far more whites were displaced and that they were much more likely to own affected properties and to receive minimal compensation beyond the appraised value of their homes. There were many other types of government projects that also destroyed majority-white towns. Reservoir lakes are an obvious one - another is military installations. I mean, nobody in the coastal media cares about the massive displacement of Indiana farm families for the Jefferson Proving Ground: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Big_Oa...ildlife_Refuge

Just imagine if a bunch of black farming families had been booted for the same purpose. We'd never hear the end of it. The white yuppies would have signs in their front landscaping letting us know how much they care. They'd wear t-shirts to the farmer's market.
The difference is that back then white people had the luxury of being able to buy property anywhere without those pesky anti-black provisions that banned black families from buying in many neighborhoods, and white people did not have legal work restrictions and active laws that systematically forbade black employment and ransacked black wealth. You're trying to wipe the objective targeted racism of urban renewal under the rug and paint white people as the true victims. Crazy.
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Old Posted Nov 20, 2021, 11:48 AM
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The difference is that back then white people had the luxury of being able to buy property anywhere without those pesky anti-black provisions that banned black families from buying in many neighborhoods, and white people did not have legal work restrictions and active laws that systematically forbade black employment and ransacked black wealth. You're trying to wipe the objective targeted racism of urban renewal under the rug and paint white people as the true victims. Crazy.
Although there were restrictions on where minorities could live, those restrictions were amongst the first to fall upon passage of civil rights laws. Many urban freeways were built after those civil right laws were passed, and the restrictions you raised were no longer in effect. I remember whole neighborhoods changing rapidly in the 1960s with white flight. A lot of poor white families were impacted by where highways were built. It was not an exclusive act of racism against minorities.
Regeneration of older neighborhoods exists today, squeezing out the poor of whatever color in favor of higher rents affordable by the middle class. You can only consider that racist of you assume most to all of the poor are minorities. But please remember, the poor come in every color, including white.
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Old Posted Nov 20, 2021, 12:21 PM
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Although there were restrictions on where minorities could live, those restrictions were amongst the first to fall upon passage of civil rights laws. Many urban freeways were built after those civil right laws were passed, and the restrictions you raised were no longer in effect. I remember whole neighborhoods changing rapidly in the 1960s with white flight. A lot of poor white families were impacted by where highways were built. It was not an exclusive act of racism against minorities.
Regeneration of older neighborhoods exists today, squeezing out the poor of whatever color in favor of higher rents affordable by the middle class. You can only consider that racist of you assume most to all of the poor are minorities. But please remember, the poor come in every color, including white.

^ highways aside, this is the classic white ‘all lives matter’ defense.

you are either naively or purposefully leaving out who is disporportionally affected. that is the crux, not that everyone was affected.

it wasn’t whitey.

it never is.

also the passing of civil rights in the 60s did not mean redlining stopped and therefore white flight ensued. white flight ensued because of the great migration, which had everything to do with jobs. it was that friction, coupled with the creation of booming sprawl suburbs marketed directly to middle class folks that lacked melanin.

the even larger background to all that is the usa was the only economic power standing in the 60s as the rest of the world continued recovering from the great war. white boomers in the usa like yourself just don’t get that insanely lucky timing and priviledge they were born into.
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