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Thread: How do interstates gentrify an area?

  1. #1
    Cyburbian Doberman's avatar
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    How do interstates gentrify an area?

    This has been a topic that has puzzled me for quite some time. Here in Birmingham you do have pockets of housing projects and a few lower income apartment houses. On the fringe of downtown you start to see some more lower income houses. However, it would appear as much that the city itself is enclosed on the west, north, and east ends by two interstates and two highways. Once you get go beyond these major corridors you start seeing a more drastic decline in the quality of the communities. This is particularly true with the interstates somewhat more so than the highways.

    I have never been able to figure out the exact science for why this seems to be the norm in my city, and others.

    Does the decay occur because of the lack of main thoroughfares going through the communities and not experiencing the economic benefits?

    One thing I have thought of that seems like a simplistic answer. Is that it may literally be the vast amount of space taken up by concrete pillars supporting the overpasses. While this may sound illogical, I think the vast amount of prime real estate being taken up by concrete pillars keeps development from flowing continuously from the urban core. In effect, this walls off the surrounding areas. Birmingham's small 'Uptown' area has the civic center, largest hotels in the area, and several fine dining restaurants along with businesses. Then peering off under the overpass you can see the stark change in the quality of land use to the north end of town.

  2. #2
    Cyburbian Masswich's avatar
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    I think its far more complex than that. Some of the best neighborhoods are far from highways. And some less than attractive areas of cities are right along highways. With recent public health research indicating that living within 100 yards of a highway has significant negative impacts on public health, it's clear that you don't want to be too close to a highway.

  3. #3
    Cyburbian dvdneal's avatar
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    It could also be a chicken and egg thing. If the community was there first and a highway built, I see it often tearing up the community, reducing property values, and because it is often small lot housing it becomes hard to take economic advantage of the highway by amassing parcel for a large project. On the other hand if the highway is built and the community follows everything is usually planned around the highway and people embrace it.

    Where I'm at the highways are all in floodplains so no one builds around them. There is just a pocket a retail in one area that's out. The highways don't actually contribute to development much. It's more of a matter of finding high ground to build on.
    I don't pretend to understand Brannigan's Law. I merely enforce it.

  4. #4
    Cyburbian DetroitPlanner's avatar
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    Quote Originally posted by dvdneal View post
    It could also be a chicken and egg thing. If the community was there first and a highway built, I see it often tearing up the community, reducing property values, and because it is often small lot housing it becomes hard to take economic advantage of the highway by amassing parcel for a large project. On the other hand if the highway is built and the community follows everything is usually planned around the highway and people embrace it.

    Where I'm at the highways are all in floodplains so no one builds around them. There is just a pocket a retail in one area that's out. The highways don't actually contribute to development much. It's more of a matter of finding high ground to build on.
    This could also be 'when' the freeway was put in as well. The earlier ones were done prior to NEPA and had little mitigation. After NEPA there were things like noise walls constructed. A freeway by me was built in a neighborhood with an Orthodox Jew population post NEPA. It has a few large plazas to make walking to temple less of a pain. It also has used quite a few soundwalls and ended up re-building the zoo entrance area just east of here. https://www.google.com/maps/preview#....1827051&fid=7

  5. #5
    Cyburbian dw914er's avatar
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    Quote Originally posted by Doberman View post
    I have never been able to figure out the exact science for why this seems to be the norm in my city, and others.
    Generally speaking, interstates and freeways have historically disrupted neighborhoods and made them worse. Visit Boyle Heights or other parts of East and South Los Angeles and you can see how the original construction of the highways had separated communities, increased congestion and pollution, and had an impact to the quality of life that still continues today. I think DetroitPlanner nailed part of the answer on the head. For highway and other infrastructure projects, NEPA, as well as CEQA for us Californians, provides a means to address issues such as environmental justice, community cohesion (and if a project will physically divide a community), noise, air quality, etc, and then will mitigate for those impacts. Good land use planning decisions as well (and some redevelopment efforts) also helped to guide uses that could benefit from the connectivity and its critical mass. LA Live is an example of a strong economic presence and land use decisions that had capitalized on the highway connectivity, and also provides some contrast to the other Los Angeles areas I mentioned previously. As a result of some of the projects done decades ago, people now have a much better understanding of what impacts a highway can have and can better address them. There are alot more factors involved, but the analysis and mitigation has certainly helped.

    Quote Originally posted by DetroitPlanner View post
    This could also be 'when' the freeway was put in as well. The earlier ones were done prior to NEPA and had little mitigation.
    And that concludes staff’s presentation...

  6. #6
    Cyburbia Administrator Dan's avatar
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    Somewhat related: during my Cleveland years, I lived in one of the East Side suburbs; the Heights/Hillcrest area. The eastern suburbs of Cleveland are, historically, much more affluent than the western suburbs; it's where most of the old money wealth of the region is concentrated. Through the 1960s and 1970s, neighborhood groups successfully fought off plans to build freeways through the area.



    Look at a map of Cleveland today, and you'll notice how the East Side suburbs seem naked, freeway-wise, compared to the West Side suburbs.



    While it would have been tragic to route expressways through what's perhaps the nation's most interesting agglomeration of interwar streetcar suburbs, the lack of limited access highways has put the East Side suburbs at a disadvantage today, compared to the faster growing West Side suburbs. Once desirable communities like Shaker Heights, Cleveland Heights and University Heights now have a "you can't get there from here" reputation. The fastest way from the East Side burbs to downtown is on surface streets which pass through Cleveland's most battered inner city 'hoods. Cleveland's rail transit system is heavily East Side-oriented, but ridership is low. Twenty-five years ago, Cleveland Heights was considered the urban suburb of choice for young professionals and hippie types. Today, urbanites and hipsters prefer Lakewood. Shaker Heights was once considered the civilized preppy suburb. In recent years, Rocky River and Bay Village have become the preferred addresses for the cultured upper middle class.

    The lack of expressways didn't harm the East Side 'burbs, but in my opinion, it was one of the factors that dislodged their long-held status as aspirational communities.
    Growth for growth's sake is the ideology of the cancer cell. -- Edward Abbey

  7. #7
    Cyburbian Masswich's avatar
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    Boston also is famous for saying no to inner city freeways (except I-93 which came first) - as a result there is no I-695, no I-95 (instead they renamed the circumferential Route 128 I-95, causing all sorts of confusion, if only because it's west of I-93 instead of east) and Route 2 didn't blast through Cambridge/Somerville. Hard not to say that property values are higher where they did not build the roads, especially when they replaced some of them with transit.

    On the other hand, no one wants to go to Boston any more, it's too crowded! (if I weren't a Sox fan I would attribute this to Yogi Berra)

  8. #8
    Cyburbian
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    Quote Originally posted by Doberman View post
    This has been a topic that has puzzled me for quite some time. Here in Birmingham you do have pockets of housing projects and a few lower income apartment houses. On the fringe of downtown you start to see some more lower income houses. However, it would appear as much that the city itself is enclosed on the west, north, and east ends by two interstates and two highways. Once you get go beyond these major corridors you start seeing a more drastic decline in the quality of the communities. This is particularly true with the interstates somewhat more so than the highways.

    I have never been able to figure out the exact science for why this seems to be the norm in my city, and others.

    Does the decay occur because of the lack of main thoroughfares going through the communities and not experiencing the economic benefits?

    One thing I have thought of that seems like a simplistic answer. Is that it may literally be the vast amount of space taken up by concrete pillars supporting the overpasses. While this may sound illogical, I think the vast amount of prime real estate being taken up by concrete pillars keeps development from flowing continuously from the urban core. In effect, this walls off the surrounding areas. Birmingham's small 'Uptown' area has the civic center, largest hotels in the area, and several fine dining restaurants along with businesses. Then peering off under the overpass you can see the stark change in the quality of land use to the north end of town.
    You are in Birmingham, Alabama. I'm thinking historic capital flows associated with racial segregation has affected your city's physical development more so than transit location. It is always a bunch of factors that go into who builds what where, and for whom. If you can figure out the definitive science of regionalism, you would get tenure.

  9. #9
    Cyburbian Doberman's avatar
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    Your certainly correct about the racial history of our city. It's been a source of blight and political infighting for quite some time. However, as I said earlier. When you see uptown redevelopment and then blighted areas just on the other side of the overpass it makes you wonder. Same with the Glen Iris area I mentioned earlier. If you look at rental property values there, 1 bed room apartments one on side of the highway go for the high 700s and on the other side 2 bedroom houses go for the low 700s.

    Now I realize this isn't the case in the suburbs, but it seems the inner city has been divided economically by highways and interstates in many instances.

  10. #10
    moderator in moderation Suburb Repairman's avatar
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    Quote Originally posted by Doberman View post
    Your certainly correct about the racial history of our city. It's been a source of blight and political infighting for quite some time. However, as I said earlier. When you see uptown redevelopment and then blighted areas just on the other side of the overpass it makes you wonder. Same with the Glen Iris area I mentioned earlier. If you look at rental property values there, 1 bed room apartments one on side of the highway go for the high 700s and on the other side 2 bedroom houses go for the low 700s.

    Now I realize this isn't the case in the suburbs, but it seems the inner city has been divided economically by highways and interstates in many instances.
    Redevelopment tends to have break points caused by physical barriers that cause a lack of continuity between neighborhoods. Austin has been gentrifying west of Interstate 35 since probably the very early 90s, but it stopped at Interstate 35 and the neighborhood went downhill rapidly on the east side. A lot of this simply comes down to access--an interstate is a difficult barrier from a pedestrian access, human environment and aesthetic standpoint. Redevelopment & gentrification eventually did jump across, but the freeway stood as a stout barrier for quite some time. I would argue it still is to some extent.

    "Oh, that is all well and good, but, voice or no voice, the people can always be brought to the bidding of the leaders. That is easy. All you have to do is tell them they are being attacked and denounce the pacifists for lack of patriotism and exposing the country to danger. It works the same way in any country."

    - Herman Göring at the Nuremburg trials (thoughts on democracy)

  11. #11
    Cyburbian Linda_D's avatar
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    This is an interesting question. I think attempting to paint with broad brush generalizations is probably not very helpful. I think most of the negative results of interstates/highways through cities and suburbs are related to economics, political power, and oftentimes race/ethnicity as well as many other factors.

    My example of this is Buffalo, NY. Anyone familiar with Buffalo has heard, and most residents absolutely believe it's gospel, that the reason that Buffalo has crashed and burned since the 1960s is because of the Kensington Expressway and its slightly less wicked relative the Scajacquada Expressway divided neighborhoods all along their paths from Humboldt Park to the city line and wrecked the entire East Side, forcing the white residents to flee to the suburbs and turning the East Side into a huge ghetto

    What this myth conveniently does is gloss over the fact that the East Side had never been a particularly desirable residential area. It was filled with tiny single-story frame homes, usually 2 flats, one front/one back, built without basements on narrow lots, with no redeeming architectural value. These were not aging well. What this myth also ignores is that whites were already leaving for the suburbs, partly for better housing and partly because they didn't want to live near blacks. What this myth pretends doesn't exist is Buffalo's rapidly increasing black population. With or without the Kensington, Buffalo's East Side was doomed, primarily by the entrenched racism that was prevalent in Buffalo during that time and which, unfortunately, still remains entrenched among many long-time white residents today.

    What's more is that while the Kensington plowed through working class neighborhoods on the East Side that were already on the brink, the Scajaquada, which connected the I90 on the west to the Kensington, was conveniently routed through industrial lands and a Buffalo city park (Delaware Park which was a classic 19th century park created by Frederick Law Olmstead) rather than through the upscale residential areas along the northern border of the park. The only upscale neighborhood that was decimated by the Scajaquada Expressway was Humboldt Parkway, which was a predominantly Jewish neighborhood, so they didn't count much more than working class whites or blacks, at least in the minds of Buffalo's "leaders". The Scajaquada is never included in the myth of how the expressways supposedly killed the city. Maybe that's because it's hard to argue the myth when some of the most expensive housing in the city sits less than 200 yards from the busy expressway with only a strip of parkland separating Nottingham Terrace from the expressway pavement.

    As an historian rather than a planner, I put a lot more emphasis on the human side than on bricks and mortar -- or on concrete and asphalt. In Buffalo, the expressways and the suburbs themselves have become the scapegoats for the poor leadership and venality of the men who have passed for Buffalo's "leaders" for the probably the last 60+ years. In Buffalo's case, the expressway plowing through poor and working class neighborhoods was more a symbol of poor urban governance rather than the cause of urban blight.
    If a free society cannot help the many who are poor, it cannot save the few who are rich. -- John F. Kennedy, January 20, 1961

  12. #12
    Cyburbian
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    I think it's hard to measure the impact of JUST the interstate on the economic well-being of the surrounding areas. Examples include metropolitan areas with a high number of suburbs (+50 suburbs per city). In these cases, many suburbs of various sizes, rich and poor, might rely on the same interchange for traffic to the interstate.
    "This is great, honey. What's the crunchy stuff?"
    "M&Ms. I ran out of paprika."

    Family Guy

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