Shreveport Neighbors See 1960s Urban Renewal in New Highway Project

Downtown Shreveport (Credit: Shreveport-Bossier Convention and Tourist Bureau)

Officials in Shreveport, Louisiana, have decided to route a controversial freeway through the historically black neighborhood of Allendale. At a heated meeting last week, residents compared the city’s choice to the deliberate racism of urban renewal, when freeways aided white suburban flight and bulldozed communities of color.

“I’m sure you see shotgun houses and you see nothing,” Allendale native James Thomas said at the meeting, according to the Shreveport Times. “That place can come alive again if you can see beyond your myopic prisons.”

I-49 is the route in question, and under the option chosen by the Metropolitan Planning Organization Transportation Policy Committee, 3.6 miles would be built directly through the neighborhood to fill what the paper calls “a perceived gap,” where the interstate ends and then continues north of the city. The committee backed the plan unanimously, and it’s also being supported by the Shreveport Chamber of Commerce and the North Louisiana Economic Partnership, among others, who argue that it will foster economic development, decrease congestion and increase enrollment at a local university. A consulting firm that has studied the connector projects that it will produce 30,000 new jobs and add roughly $800 in economic benefits (although those benefits were disputed by Strong Towns earlier this year).

“I grew up in that area, and I know most of the citizens here,” City Councilman Willie Bradford, whose district includes Allendale, said, speaking in favor of the freeway during the meeting. “I was elected to lead, and I understand the economic impact that this corridor will probably have on this community.”

According to Streetsblog, the Allendale neighborhood has in the last few years been planning for a 40-acre park, a botanical garden and 150 new units of housing. A group of neighbors is actively mobilizing against the freeway plan.

“They always want to find a black community to bring it through,” Dorothy Wiley, president of the neighborhood group Allendale Strong, told Streesblog. “These people been living there 50, 60 years; they don’t want to be uprooted.”

Freeways built through cities have increasingly been met with municipal and even federal skepticism over the last decade (although state DOTs still tend to be internally biased toward them). Some cities, like Montreal and New Haven, Connecticut, have recently begun converting urban-renewal-era highways back into more pedestrian-friendly boulevards. And the projects that destroyed neighborhoods in places like St. Paul and Philadelphia were the subject of a four-city tour last year led by former Transportation Secretary Anthony Foxx.

“We now know — overwhelmingly — that our urban freeways were routed through low-income neighborhoods,” Foxx said in April. “Instead of connecting us to each other, highway decision-makers separated us.”

A final decision will be made on the Shreveport project in late 2018.

Rachel Dovey is an award-winning freelance writer and former USC Annenberg fellow living at the northern tip of California’s Bay Area. She writes about infrastructure, water and climate change and has been published by Bust, Wired, Paste, SF Weekly, the East Bay Express and the North Bay Bohemian.

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