How Houston’s Highways Impact Neighborhoods

A chapter in a new book highlights how highway construction forced changes and caused displacement in communities that included public housing developments.

2 minute read

March 13, 2023, 9:00 AM PDT

By Diana Ionescu @aworkoffiction

Dusk view of blurred car lights passing on freeway with Houston skyline in background

RaulCano / Houston, Texas

In an adapted excerpt from Justice and the Interstates: The Racist Truth About Urban Highways published in Next City, Kyle Shelton director of the University of Minnesota Center for Transportation Studies, describes the generational impacts of highway construction on communities and public housing developments in Houston, Texas.

“With every road widening, communities changed. Landscapes shifted. Routes to work and school were blocked. Homes and community institutions were displaced. Although the residents absorbed these impacts for generations, at no point have these Houstonians had the chance to meaningfully shape the highway projects that affect them.”

Shelton details the history of Clayton Homes and Kelly Village, which continue to face environmental hazards and reduced mobility. Yet the Texas Department of Transportation (TxDOT) is plowing ahead with the North Houston Highway Improvement Project (NHHIP), a freeway expansion that threatens to displace hundreds of homes and businesses.

Of course, “This story is repeated across the nation in highway-side communities, most of which are home to low-income and non-white residents. The highways set, in concrete, the course of decades of infrastructure development along with the same, ever-wider rights of way.”

Shelton argues that with many of the country’s major roads and highways aging, now is the time to reevaluate their role in the transportation system. “The choices cities, states, and the federal government make in the coming years can either exacerbate the negative impacts felt by highway-side residents or begin to center alternative approaches and transportation strategies that improve our collective mobility and address the wounds created by past decisions.”

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