The U.S. Interstate Highway System has been lauded as one of the greatest public works projects in human history. Encompassing nearly fifty thousand miles of standardized, limited-access highways, the system radically remade the built environment in the U.S. by connecting cities and making possible the massive suburbanization of the metropolitan landscape. But Interstate Highways also served to disconnect and disempower. Planners hoping to reinforce racial segregation routinely sited higways either through the heart of black and Latino neighborhoods or along boundaries between those communities and white ones. As a result, hundreds of thousands were evicted, thriving black and Latino neighborhoods were destroyed, and damaging color lines were reinforced. Those who remained were left to contend with increased physical, economic, and psychological barriers, not to mention noxious fumes from vehicle emissions, the constant whirr of vehicle engines, and other negative externalities that come with living next to a limited access highway.
Recognizing these historic injustices, the Biden administration, as part of its ambitious, two trillion dollar American Jobs Plan, committed $20 billion for reconnecting neighborhoods that were cut off, bulldozed, and blighted by urban renewal-era highways. Communities will compete for funds to remove, cap, or otherwise undermine these highways and replace them with parks and mixed-use development. For many communities, the newly developable sites created by highway removal offer a unique opportunity to address affordable housing shortages, especially considering the American Jobs Plan’s provisions for affordable and public housing.
This interdisciplinary studio invites students from all departments to work alongside community leaders in a number of cities across the U.S. to reimagine Interstate rights- of-way. Students will be required to 1) select an Interstate in the U.S. that is ripe for reimagining from a list provided by the instructor; 2) meet with community leaders to better understand local priorities; 3) present a clear, compelling case about the damage the highway did (and continues to do); 4) develop a compelling vision for what should be built; and 5) compile your work into a persuasive pitch. As the American Jobs Plan also includes provisions for affordable housing, public housing, clean energy, resiliency, and environmental justice, students will be strongly encouraged to incorporate these elements into their schemes.
Day trips to New York, the Hudson Valley, Portland, Lowell, and/or other local cities are tentatively planned.