A thin layer of soot covers the yellow paint of the wooden houses that line Interstate 81, a highway in downtown Syracuse, in the state of New York, supported by rusted steel girders and dirty concrete pillars.
The highway – from where the fumes from car exhausts choke pedestrians and the sound of truck tires can be heard day and night – cuts the surrounding neighborhood in two.
A housing unit, called Pioneer Homes, is located to the east, on a hill. To the west, meanwhile, there are more social housing together with the yellow houses, which are mainly owned by minorities and some companies.
Civil rights activists nickname this mile of the interstate the “Racist highway”. According to them, pathways like this divide minority neighborhoods and pollute these communities.
Many urban planners want to tear them down, and now the president Joe biden it also has them in its sights.
Millionaire infrastructure plan
Biden opted for an expansive infrastructure plan of One billion dollars that could turn out to be the largest investment in roads, bridges and roads in the United States in decades.
The package – which was recently approved by the Senate of this country and now awaits review by the House of Representatives – would include repairs to old power lines and roads, as well as the replacement of potable water pipes and the expansion of access. to broadband.
But it also has another goal: to address the climate change and racial inequalities.
In this way, the project includes billion dollars to “reconnect communities,” which means tearing down urban roads that run through neighborhoods like Siracusa.
But it is an open question whether tearing down the highways where generations of Americans have lived is really a route to racial advancement.
And there are many skeptics.
Racism on roads
The White House has argued that “megahighways,” which exist throughout the United States, have caused pain and ruined many communities.
They say that at first they forced people out of their homes when they were built, destroying businesses that were owned by African Americans. And then through noise and air pollution created by traffic, they have continued to affect many people.
“There is racism physically built on some of our roads,” he said. Pete buttigieg, the United States Secretary of Transportation.
Experts say there is some truth to this statement.
When the US highway system was being built between 1950 and 1970, urban planners often designed it to cut through neighborhoods where “property values were lowest, because those houses were the least expensive to buy,” he explains. Mark rose, professor of history at Florida Atlantic University and author of a book on interstate highways.
Often times, this was synonymous with places where blacks and other American minorities lived.
Although activists from Syracuse to the city of Los Angeles fought against the construction of these megahighways, they were built anyway, leaving some communities torn apart, bombarded with noise and pollution, and divided in half.
Meanwhile, the highways allowed traffic to flow from city centers to the suburbs for middle-class travelers who could afford that lifestyle.
That has left a grim legacy.
Studies have found that living near a highway in the United States is associated with a greater likelihood of suffering heart attacks and asthma.
“As a son of the Bronx, I was often in three places,” recalled Ritchie Torres, a congressman from the South Bronx, where a well-known megahighway, the Cross Bronx Expressway, runs. “I was at home, I was at school and I was in the emergency room, because I was repeatedly hospitalized for asthma.”
The “Asthma epidemic” in the Bronx it was a consequence of the freeway, which is “both literally and metaphorically a structure of racism,” he argued.
On the other hand, the conditions in which the neighbors live are much worse. For example, almost the 40% of residents in the neighborhood surrounding New Orleans’ Claiborne Expressway live below the poverty line, compared to the 25% of the city in general.
And the closing of the business is evident. A road built through the prosperous black neighborhood of Greenwood in Tulsa, Oklahoma, it has meant the total closure of its shops.
At its peak, prior to the construction of Interstate 75 in the 1950s, it featured 40 grocery stores and 35 blocks of stores and homes.
Investment and racial equity
When Interstate 81 was being built through Syracuse in the mid-20th century, more than 1,000 residents had to leave their homes, according to a local association.
The transportation secretary visited the city in June and spoke of tearing down the downtown section of the highway, where he said a boulevard would be built, diverting traffic elsewhere.
The project would cost around US$ 2 billion and could receive federal funds.
Federal investment in public works is generally channeled through state and local governments, increasing their coffers.
Members of Congress extract chunks of federal money to invest in their own states. In some cases, it can help them win re-election.
For Biden, the emphasis on racial equity it was part of his campaign and helped him win the elections. Addressing it in the infrastructure bill “fulfills many government and campaign promises,” he said. Jon Reinisch, a Democratic strategist from New York.
The Biden administration has worked hard to get the infrastructure project approved. “It’s heavy work,” he says. Lawrence Levy, from the National Center for Suburban Studies at Hofstra University.
“It requires the White House to reach out to as many people as possible and convince them to see infrastructure in a way they haven’t thought of before,” he adds.
Will the promise be fulfilled?
However, few people in Syracuse believe that the president will achieve what he promises.
“Sounds good on paper,” said the trucker. Alex Londono, 39 years old. “It would be better to fix the road and help local businesses,” he added.
Joquin Paskel, a 28-year-old businessman who rents inflatable castles for birthday parties, agreed that the road is racist.
“It just creates division,” he said.
And while he says Biden’s plan could help, he said he doesn’t think it “necessarily stops racism.” Meanwhile, his girlfriend, Debowrah Yisrael, 20, was wondering, “Where will we go while they’re working on it?”
Gainnis brownThe one-year-old was racing down a street near the highway on his orange and black tricycle, the fifth generation in his family to live near the highway.
Despite its undesirable aspects, it is home, Gainnis’s great-great-aunt said, Kathy Gaston.
The 61-year-old supports the president, but is more concerned with day-to-day affairs than campaign promises.
The dust, blown off the road, covers your furniture. “I have the furniture cleaning wipes,” he said, running one of his fingers across a table.
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