When Interstate 244 rammed through Tulsa’s Greenwood neighborhood in the 1970s, the community had already experienced the wrath of racism. In 1921, a white mob had unleashed horrific violence against the Black neighborhood, killing 300 people and destroying 35 acres of commercial and residential property. Then in the 1930s, redlining policies in Oklahoma’s highly segregated second-largest city had made it impossible for Black Tulsans to own property in the only part of town they could live.
By the late 1960s, the area was declared “blighted” and targeted for demolition in the name of “urban renewal.” Five decades after it had been wrecked, Greenwood was wrecked again.
The story of I-244 and its disastrous effects on a community is one that’s repeated across the country, as Black and brown neighborhoods were ravaged to make space for highways in the ’60s and ’70s. Now, many of those highways are nearing the end of their lifespans. A new report identifies 15 of the worst offenders and advocates for their removal, which would alleviate pollution, spur economic development, and dismantle a tool that has long been used to perpetuate racial segregation. An estimated 11.3 million people live within 500 feet of a major highway according to figures from 2010, and a disproportionate number of them are racial and ethnic minorities.
The Freeways Without Futures report was published by the Congress for the New Urbanism (CNU), an organization that advocates for walkable cities, and it comes in the midst of President Biden’s infrastructure plan rollout, which calls for a $20 billion fund to reconnect neighborhoods cut off by old transportation projects. Some of these, like I-10 in New Orleans and I-81 in Syracuse, New York, are included in the report.