City Highways = Ugliness

MBA: Highway Removal from Streetfilms on Vimeo.

I came across this video this morning on Treehugger and it really struck a nerve with me. It's in regards to highways cutting through cities: why we don't need them and the destruction they leave in their wake. I've mentioned on numerous occasions that I am writing from Buffalo, NY...a small city, but it's getting smaller (population) each year. It is quite literally half the size in population that it was 50 years ago. Anyhow, what struck a nerve in me--and to get to the point--is that like many American cities mine has a few hiways circumnenting them, but also one that cuts it directly in two. For a small city we have such beautiful park space...but it was once more beautiful. The park system was designed by Frederick Law Olmstead, who was most famous, I think, for designing Central Park in NYC (among numerous others). Anyhow, one of the parks--Humboldt Park--was shortened greatly by the Kensington Expressway. The park still remains, but the pan handle is gone.

If you look at the above image (found here) you can see what I mean...the image on the left shows the park in tact, and the image on the right shows the highway running through where the panhandle once was (click it for a close view).

The highway was completed in the late 1960's (I think). I grew up in a neighborhood that was close to the construction (but not near Humboldt Park). I don't have many memories of it being built, but one I do remember is--ironically--riding a bicycle down it at night. They worked around the clock building it (time is money) and had flood lights at night, and one memory is the construction workers allowing a gang of us to ride our bikes down the unopened highway at night (in my minds memory it seemed  really late, but being just a boy it was probably only like 9pm). I also remember my mother  telling me stories of when she was a little girl the "rich people" would ride horses through Humboldt Park (how perfect...two miles long and narrow) we just drive cars down it.

I can't image how terrible it must have been for the people who own the many beautiful houses that line the highway. Oddly (and almost cruelly) in an effort to make it seem less ugly the city actually submerged the highway, which in my opinion is uglier still. So these people when from having beautiful park-front homes to owning a house whose front yard now faces a submerged highway. This isn't just ugly; it's the anti-beauty of the urban landscape. This highway has made it really easy--to this day--for people to flee the city, for good or just daily; to work downtown and race back to their subdivisions at 5pm. Here's a couple before-and-after pictures (found here and here). It's easy to see which makes more sense on so many levels. In a city that has such a rich cultural and architectural heritage...shame on us for allowing this to happen.


DanT said…

"They" divided St. Catharines the same way - a walled 6 lane superhighway with service roads right through the middle of the city.

I am interested to see what these highways will be like in 10 years and we are well and truly into a scarce fuel and scarcer finances world.

Dr C. said…
That is really rather tragic. A few UK cities such as Glasgow have suffered the same fate with motorways (highways) cutting through them, to the detriment of the city. Here in Manchester we only have a ring-road, which acts as a barrier to leaving/entering the city by bike or on foot.
Bricoleur said…

Great blogging, as always. Interestingly, here in PVD a project that actually MOVED a highway that had bisected the city south (over the water has been mostly completed. The last bits of the old I-195 are being demolished and the whole cite being opened back up. It is really a remarkable thing. Check it out:
Premodern Bloke said…
Change is a foot.
Joe said…
Thanks Everyone for your comments. Yes it was tragic...and I wonder how many see it today. Hopefully we've learned our lesson.
Captain Hairdo said…
Here in Paradise (er, uh, Portland), we have a park downtown that is one of the most beautiful parts of the city. There are cherry and plum trees, there's a lot of green space, public art, and people everywhere year round. It's so beautiful running shoe and bicycle companies routinely use it for ads. Truly a gem. Here are two pictures:

Amazingly, until just a few decades ago, this beautiful space was actually taken up by a freeway called SW Harbor Drive:

But the people took it back! So there is hope.
Joe said…
CH: Those are great links...thanks for posting them. Hopefully Buffalo will eventually get the idea (slowly we are, I think).