Have you ever been driving through a city on a road that clearly split the city in two?  Unfortunately this is a dilemma that has been written into the history books of American cities.  LA’s Interstate-405, Austin’s I-35, NOLA’s Claiborne Expressway, Syracuse’s I-81, New Haven’s Route 34, St. Louis’ I-70 just to name a few have all divided the cities they call home.

What are we doing as a nation, as citizens, urban planners, designers to mend these broken seams to our cities? Sometimes natural disasters provide opportunities to mend urban highways, as was the case with San Francisco’s Embarcadero, or an economic downturn provides opportunities, like Route 99 in Portland.  

Some communities that face this challenge:
  • I-280, Newark, NJ – The Urban Essex Coalition is federally funded effort led by Together North Jersey, trying to use “complete streets” as a solution for I-280’s splitting of the community.
  • I-5, Seattle International District – While there is no solution yet, our client, Seattle Chinatown International District, faces the challenge of connecting both sides of the interstate highway that bifurcates the traditionally Chinese portion of the district from the growing Vietnamese community. The underbelly of I-5 poses a challenge to connectivity that the community has tried to overcome by painting the piers that hold up the highway.
  • Image: Sunnysidepost.com
  • Sunnyside, Queens, NY – The up and coming neighborhood of Sunnyside is making progress to connect the northern district with the southern district which is severed by the elevated 7 subway.  Sunnyside BID is working to add plazas, seating, events with music, and farm stands (seen on right).
  • In New Orleans, the challenge was outlined in “Imagining Cities Without Highways” by Diana Lind. Claiborne Avenue was once a bustling corridor with grassy medians lined with trees. After the highway was built, its neighboring community of the Treme slid into decline. 
  • In St. Louis, I-70 is vastly underused and severs a resurgent downtown from the Mississippi River. Plans are in the works to create a park like platform over the highway, but local advocacy groups are calling for the highway to be replaced entirely by a boulevard. 
  • And finally in the Bronx, the Sheridan Expressway separates the South Bronx from the rest of NYC and discourages economic development.

So how do we seam together communities that have been torn apart by infrastructure, trains, roads, etc.?:
In Rotterdam, painted viaduct columns make for a
nicer pedestrian passageway
Greater connectivity of our cities provides greater mobilization, interaction, and livability, potentially leading to more community interaction, increased economic activity, and decreased disassociation.  

Proposal to sink and cap I70 East in Denver, CO 
Proposal to cap Autobahn A7

Further reading: