Thursday, October 21, 2010

Ruination by Design: Ramming Highways Through Cities

One of the most colossal mistakes ever made in transportation design was ramming major freeways right through cities. What was done to Detroit is a perfect example. The engineering of major "expressways" from the 1940s through the 1970s rode roughshod across Detroit and completely disrupted the vibrancy of urban ecosystems. These highways and sunken freeways created catastrophic social barriers as well as noise and gas pollution-creating throughway corridors. They wrecked neighborhoods and cultural magnets. They foolishly overrode a) the walking city and b) the street car system and other public transit. And they -- these expressways and their interchanges -- are incredibly ugly -- far uglier than any other visual aspect of the city.   

(Above: Cars, streetcars and throngs of people in downtown Detroit at Michigan Avenue and Griswold, circa 1920; Burton Collection, Detroit Public Library).

Detroit in 1967, with expressway corridors still under construction. 

Today's Rune: Joy.


Lana Gramlich said...

I agree with you. They're convenient, but I don't know that all of the costs are worth it.

John said...

I've been reading about Detroit's vacancy issues and came across your blog. Good stuff. They definitely over did the freeway in Detroit. It seems redundant to maintain both our freeway system and our train system in this country. In Detroit's case it looks like public transportation would have been more beneficial accept it looks like a lot of the neighborhoods have freestanding homes with yards rather than apartment buildings. I heard Henry Ford was a big fan of "owning land". Oh well... your old map was great. Thanks John