March 27, 2012

Urban Highways Offer Cities New Opportunities for Revitalization

Cheonggyecheon in Seoul

Cheonggyecheon in Seoul, South Korea is an international best practice for greenways that has also seen an increase in development and rents along the corridor and a decrease in air and noise pollution and traffic. Photo by Sarah Kim.

If the twentieth century was known for building highways, the twenty-first century may be known for tearing them down. A new report jointly produced by the Institute for Transportation and Development Policy and EMBARQ, ”The Life and Death of Urban Highways,” re-appraises the specific conditions under which it makes sense to build urban highways and when it makes sense to tear them down.

After decades of building and maintaining urban highways, many cities are choosing to tear them down rather than repair or maintain them. Five are showcased in this report: Portland, Oregon; San Francisco, California; Milwaukee, Wisconsin; Seoul, South Korea; and Bogotá, Colombia. These cities demonstrate the social, economic and environmental benefits of removal or of reinvesting in other options and opportunities.

As Peter Park, former planning director of Milwaukee during the Park East Freeway removal, writes in the foreword, “While the following report is about urban highways, more importantly, it is about cities and people. It is about community vision and the leadership required in the twenty-first century to overcome the demolition, dislocation, and disconnection of neighborhoods caused by freeways in cities.”

In the past fifty years, tens of thousands of miles of urban highways were built around the world. Many are now approaching the end of their life cycle. This is leading many cities, not just in the United States, to question the place of major highways in urban areas and whether they merit further investment or removal. Today, some of the same urban highways that were built in that period are being torn down, buried at great expense, or changed into boulevards. As cities around the world grapple with congestion, growth, and decline, the case studies highlighted in this groundbreaking report illuminate what can be done when a highway no longer makes sense.


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