We have heard about “racist” statues. The charge of “racist,” used to any degree real or perceived, has become a powerful weapon among those pushing swift and widespread cultural and political revolution.
The next big thing in their crusade will be “racist” highways that must be destroyed like statues of Abraham Lincoln and Robert E. Lee. Racial justice activists hope Pete Buttigieg, President-elect Joe Biden’s nominee for transportation secretary, will lead the charge. His tweet about highways emboldens them.
“Black and brown neighborhoods have been disproportionately divided by highway projects or left isolated by the lack of adequate transit and transportation resources. In the Biden-Harris administration, we will make righting these wrongs an imperative,” Buttigieg tweeted on Dec. 20.
The potential new federal highway doctrine has major ramifications for Colorado, where massive population growth and political negligence equal pent-up demand for highway construction. Consider the Central 70 Project to expand I-70 from I-25 in Denver east to Chambers Road.
“This is what environmental racism looks like,” said Debbie James, with the neighborhood organization United North Metro Denver, in a 2919 meeting to oppose the project.
The Washington-based Congress for the New Urbanism argues I-70 has for a half-century burdened the “historic minority communities” of Elyria, Swansea and Globeville. Upgrading the freeway exacerbates a tradition of oppression, the organization says.
“The state has acquired and demolished 56 residences and 17 businesses — including the neighborhood’s only source to purchase food,” explains the group’s website.
“The plan also includes the demolition of Swansea Elementary School’s playground and the school building itself would be directly adjacent to the 14-lane highway.”
While the movement to oppose “racist” highways anticipates an ally in Buttigieg, his past performance should give them concern.
South Bend’s Black community (30%) blasted Buttigieg for leading an urban renewal “gentrification” project that demolished 100 houses deemed “undesirable.” Minorities owned a disproportionate number of targeted homes.
A July 28 article on the Pew Trusts’ website explains a plan by activists to use the racial tensions of 2020, ignited by the killing of Black suspect George Floyd during an arrest in Minneapolis, to bulldoze “racist” highways.
“It gives us more ammunition. Because when you look at how these things have developed in their totality, they’re absolutely racist,” said New Orleans-based urban planner Amy Stelly, as quoted by Pew.
Stelly leads a crusade to destroy what she calls the worst “racist monument” in New Orleans — the Clairborne Expressway.
Pew reports “advocates around the country are intensifying their calls for city and state governments to remove the highways that destroyed Black neighborhoods.”
A Dec. 10 tweet by Smart Growth America says “Interstate highways were often intentionally (emphasis ours) placed to raze or divide Black and brown neighborhoods. It’s long past time to repair the damage.”
The concern has long been part of American culture. John Mellencamp lyricized in his hit song “Pink Houses” about a man in a Black neighborhood who has “got an interstate running through his front yard … ain’t that America.” The African American folk song “Little Liza Jane” tells of a friend in Baltimore with “streetcars running by her door.”
Indeed, minorities make up a disproportionate percentage of people living near ugly transportation corridors. This is not because “racist” planners and politicians wanted to harm them.
To maximize resources, governments acquire the most affordable property between points A and B. Land and homes are less expensive in poor neighborhoods, which explains why poor people live in them. In the year 2020, almost 245 years after the country’s founding, a disproportionately high number of ethnic minorities struggle with low incomes or poverty. From that sad fact emerges the hardships so often seen as racial injustices.
If the Biden administration cares about “Black” and “brown” people, in Buttigieg’s words, it should eliminate barriers to success. It can start with education reforms that give poor children access to the same quality of schools available to children in wealthy neighborhoods. A parent who has issues with Swansea Elementary or any other school should have the right and resources to move a child.
The Biden administration could eliminate or reduce excessive minimum wage mandates and extreme environmental regulations that obstruct the initiation of small businesses by those with the least to invest. It could expand opportunity zones with tax abatements that reward constructive endeavors.
Biden could advocate an infrastructure package that incentivizes and assists the poor in starting construction firms. The incoming administration could and should focus on educational and economic opportunity for all. Biden should discourage the destruction of lifeless property, which typically harms minorities more than it helps them.
We cannot afford to destroy highways in another misguided stand that won’t further the righteous pursuit of racial and economic justice. Rather than tearing down highways, we can build people up so they might live where they choose.
The Gazette Editorial Board
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