“Freeways Without Futures”: Urban Highway Removal and Scalar Restructuring in the United States and Spain

Authors: John Stehlin*, University of North Carolina - Greensboro
Topics: Urban Geography, Economic Geography, Transportation Geography
Keywords: infrastructure, automobility, spatial fix, creative destruction, scale
Session Type: Virtual Paper
Day: 4/8/2021
Start / End Time: 9:35 AM / 10:50 AM
Room: Virtual 43
Presentation File: No File Uploaded

Urban highways are widely recognized to have had devastating social, economic, and environmental consequences, locking in racial and class segregation, suburban sprawl, and fossil energy dependence. Today, as much of the infrastructure built during the peak of the midcentury road construction boom reaches the end of its lifespan, there is growing interest—both among city leaders and organizations like the Congress for New Urbanism—in removing highways and replacing them with parks, housing, and surface boulevards in the interest of economic development, repairing the urban social fabric, and fostering more sustainable mobility. Based on preliminary research, this paper examines several such initiatives in the United States and Spain: the Inner Loop in Rochester, New York; I-345 in Dallas, Texas; A-5 in Madrid; and A-8 in Bilbao. I argue that highway removal, modeled on several showcase projects in San Francisco, Portland, and Seoul, plays a growing role in a socioecological and infrastructural fix (Desai and Loftus, 2013; Ekers and Prudham, 2018) for urban governments seeking to attract investment in “green” development. Highway removal projects reveal scalar tensions within the reurbanization of capital: between neighborhood-specific projects of relatively localized repair in favor of intensive development—potentially increasing displacement risk to low income residents—on the one hand, and deepening automobile dependence driven by extensive urbanization at the scale of the city-region as a whole. I emphasize, however, that these projects demonstrate the critical role of infrastructural destruction and public land reclamation in any positive program of urban climate change politics.

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