Atlanta’s highway damage: a lesson from the past that’s important for our future

Darin Givens
Dec 6, 2018 · 2 min read

It’s inevitable that we would have one expressway going at least near the middle of the city, as even the U.S. cites that avoided the worst of interstate damage (after the 20th century ‘freeway revolts’ nationwide) still have one passing near their center.

I-20 was the first in Atlanta, and it certainly did some damage. But the decision to follow that one up with the addition of I-85 and I-75 through the middle of downtown, and with a giant interchange (versus perhaps having those last two bypass on a 286 like ring), was just wrong and unneeded.

If San Francisco, D.C., Vancouver, and many other cites can prosper with the presence of only a single freeway running nearby the city center, Atlanta could have too.

The merging of three interstates in the middle of the city was excessive, and it only happened because they were so carefully plotted to do the most damage to African American neighborhoods, where residents had little agency and political pull for revolt during the 1940s, when Atlanta’s interstate system was planned (via the Lochner Report).

Why complain about it? We don’t have a time machine. We can’t go back and convince planners and politicians from the 1940s-70s to not do this damage.

But by at least accepting that this was wrong, we can learn a lesson about how destructive it is to design urban places around space-hogging, inefficient car transportation. As urban population increases (and the City of Atlanta is now gaining residents by the thousands annually after decades of little or no growth), that lesson from the past is very important for our future.

Darin Givens

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ThreadATL co-founder: || Advocacy for good urbanism in Atlanta || atlurbanist -at-

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