Are cities for cars or for people? This question underlies the greater part of a century of urban planning in the United States, and since the 1950s, cars have largely won. Strips of asphalt and concrete cut and slash their way through the capital, prioritizing commuters and their cars while making residents second-class citizens in their communities. At a time when the need to create a more environmentally, economically and racially just world looks as it always has, let’s flip the script and put people first.
Urban planning is mainly about allocating space for different goods and services that people need – a hospital or a grocery store here, an office or a factory there. but for quotes Sixties folk singer Joni Mitchell, it was “a cobbled paradise, a parking lot monument.” But which paradise do we decide to pave? Who are homes, businesses, and communities swept away by parking lots, highways, and intersections?
While this politically charged process played out differently from state to state and city to city between roughly 1950 and 1970, broad strokes of highway construction are same. New highways built with federal funds under the administration of former President Dwight Eisenhower connected downtown with segregated new suburbs outside the city. Urban highways cut through minority and non-white neighborhoods, destroying residents’ homes and forcing them to move elsewhere in the city or out of the city entirely. But city dwellers have not only watched transport officials pave paradise – they have formed unlikely alliances to save their communities, organized protests and put pressure on government officials.
So what happened to the capital when the grids of Pierre Charles L’Enfant, who designed the layout of the nation’s capital in 1791, merged with the highways? In 1955, the United States Bureau of Highways published It’s the “Yellow Book,” a literal roadmap for connecting the nation to highways. Among other designs of what would become the Capital Beltway, Anacostia Road, and the Southwest and Southeast Highways, Yellow Book conceivable The downtown loop runs through the heart of the capital. activists whose neighborhoods and livelihoods, from Georgetown to Brookland, were at stake. If not for the work of the Transit Crisis Emergency Committee – a coalition of white and black residents – as well as Georgetown students and neighborhood associations, plan Dupont Circle’s historic Quaker meeting house would have demolished, leveled U Street and destroyed countless homes and businesses, forever changing the capital as we know it today.
Highways may seem politically neutral – they’re just a way to get from A to B, after all. But it was the automatically obsessed Southern conservatives in Congress who pushed for the highways in the then-black majority and were still politically underrepresented in the capital, and it’s also no coincidence that the wealthier townspeople west of Rock Creek Park escaped from the worst highway construction, except Whitehurst Expressway casts a shadow over the Georgetown Waterfront. But the short stretch of Whitehurst Highway pales in comparison to the Anacostia Highway through town, which cuts off Wards 7 and 8 residents from miles and miles of riverside recreational space.
Freeways do not take up valuable public space or destroy neighborhoods – after decades of officials building these highways, air pollution associated with motor vehicles on highways and crowded roads in wards 5, 7 and 8 is premature and disproportionately killing The poorest and least educated population and people of color. These same three wings represent More than half Of 24 deaths this year.
However, with 70 years of hindsight, there are still plans for it expand I-270 in Maryland with express toll lanes to lighten traffic – regardless of the fact that more lanes, express or otherwise, are not solution for crowding. And in Houston, home to 26 wide lanes Katie Freewayplanning to expand I-69 will displacement More than 1,000 black and Latino residents in the surrounding area.
Fortunately, not everyone is convinced that the future rides on four wheels – the battle to reclaim space from cars is now taking place throughout the capital. National Park Service Closed Upper Beach Drive, a two-lane tree-lined park road that runs through Rock Creek Park, into vehicular traffic at the start of the pandemic. Passengers have given way to cyclists, joggers and hikers, who have been safely cruising and rejuvenating the park for the past two years. But NPS has plans – Pending Final Decision – To reopen Rock Creek Park seasonally, returning quiet public space to morning commute outside of the summer months.
Upper Beach Drive demonstrates the power federal officials still have over urban planning in the capital, but there is much more the city can and can do on its own. When it was designed but not yet built 11 Bridge Park Street When complete, it will connect Anacostia residents to Navy Yard, and vice versa, with bike paths, footpaths, and outdoor recreation space. With ambition and federal funding, city officials can completely demolish some highways — only Detroit Receive Nearly $100 million to replace a sunken highway with a level street.
We don’t have to imagine a future less dependent on cars – we already have tantalizing glimpses of one. Department of Transport in the region open streets The events have opened miles of city roads to pedestrians and cyclists since then 2019and the H Street Festival this weekend Transformation Car space in the community space.
Let’s go back to where we started – are cities for cars or people? We can leave urban space in the hands of a ton of steel and rubber as we have done for the past 70 years, or we can claim the city to ourselves. I prefer the latter option – we can, we will, and we must ensure that cities are for the people.
Ethan Penn, a junior journalism and mass communications specialist, is the opinion editor.
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