Over the past couple of months, there has been a spate of articles celebrating cities that are getting rid of their urban highways. The Christian Science Monitor had an article discussing New Haven’s urban reclamation efforts. NPR reported the following:
How did this happen? After all, this is the country that always saw roads as a sign of progress.
Now, taking down freeways has gone mainstream. Cities as diverse as New Haven, New Orleans and Seattle are either doing it or talking about it. The chief motivation seems to be money…
This is the city planner’s dream: Take out an underused freeway, open up land for new businesses or parks and magically more workers will move back to the city and property values will soar. So far, though, the results have been mixed.
Milwaukee hasn’t seen as much development as proponents hoped after that city took down a spur of the Park East Freeway. But San Francisco revitalized an entire neighborhood by taking down the Embarcadero Freeway in the early 1990s.
The NPR story concludes by using the hypothetical example of a highway that wasn’t built through New York City’s SoHo. And Grist gets in on the act by finding inspiration for Cascadia via Seoul.
Can anyone tell me what shining example of urban reclamation and renewal hasn’t been raised? What city has gone unmentioned? Can ya?
Remember the Big Dig? It was always viewed as a hideously expensive boondoggle (even as 75% of the costs were born by Massachusetts), but, in reality, it truly helped revitalize the southern part of Downtown Crossing, the North End, and the Waterfront. Without it, Boston would be a lot worse off (if it helps, think of the Big Dig as a massive clawback for all of the subsidies, such as the mortgage interest housing deduction, that have essentially subsidized suburbs at the expense of cities*). After all, it happened in the ‘corrupt’** Northeast in an urban area during a time when cities were not popular among the chatterati. It therefore symbolizes ‘corruption’ as opposed to a staggeringly successful urban policy.
Thanks to this unstoppable narrative, the Big Dig, which I would argue is the singular example of urban renewal through highway removal, appears to have disappeared down the memory hole.
Oh well, as long as we’re getting good policy….
*Most people in cities rent, whereas most suburbanites own. Rent, beyond a trivial amount in the MA tax code (~$20 per year), is not tax deductible, whereas mortgages are.
**Having living for much of my life in Virgina, it’s every bit as corrupt as the Northeast.