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Detroit Highways: Tear Them Down

Urban planning decisions about highway placement in Detroit damaged Black communities. Nithin Vejendla shares an opinion about how to address this legacy and move toward justice.
August 3, 2020, 11am PDT | Lee Flannery | @leecflannery
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Detroit Freeway
Interstate 75 in Detroit in April 2020, when stay-at-home orders emptied the city of car traffic.
Linda Parton

In a recent Detroit Free Press opinion piece, Nithin Vejendla discusses the wave of awareness of racial disparity and systemic racism brought about by the murder of George Floyd. For example, in confronting long-lasting symbols of historical racism and colonial settlerism, the city of Detroit removed a statue of Christopher Columbus from public display. Vejendla says the city should take that action further: "if we’re going to get serious about removing symbols of this country’s endemic racism, we shouldn’t stop there. Detroit’s most persistent, visible, and disruptive symbols of racism are its freeways."

The deliberate destruction of Black communities through the construction of freeways that bisected and uprooted entire neighborhoods in cities like Detroit is a dark legacy recently being confronted by the planning community. In Detroit, the I-375 Chrysler Freeway, the M-10 Lodge Expressway, and the I-94 Edsel Ford Freeway bisected Black neighborhoods and business centers, destroying  "some of the African-American community’s most important institutions," explains Vejendla. "To address this terrible legacy, I propose we tear out all the freeways in the greater downtown are of the city," Vejendla opines. Vejendla suggests an alternative path forward including investment in public transit and the payment of reparations to Black Americans with the land reclaimed from the removal of highways.

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Published on Sunday, July 5, 2020 in Detroit Free Press
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