Projects To Repurpose Underused Freeways Bring Communities Together

Projects To Repurpose Underused Freeways Bring Communities Together
Brand Activation & Immersion

Freeways Without Futures 2017 seeks to bring leaders and communities together to discuss the environmental impact of highway infrastructure

Ido Lechner, Home Editor
  • 25 september 2017

A project dubbed ‘Freeways Without Futures 2017’ from the Congress for the New Urbanism (CNU) seeks to fuse decades of lessons, resources, strategies and efforts to innovate urban highway removal practices. Having set its sights on 10 specific highways within the United States, the venture hopes to empower forward-thinking engineers, political leaders and local highway teardown advocates to repair the damaging physical, economic and environmental consequences these structures have had on their environments.

According to CNU, “Communities across North America are facing a watershed moment in the history of our transportation infrastructure. With cities, citizens, and transportation officials all looking for alternatives to costly highway repair and expansion, [a number of campaigns] offer a roadmap to better health, equity, opportunity, and connectivity in every neighborhood, while reversing decades of decline and disinvestment.”

One such undertaking, a highway known as State Route 59 (or the Innerbelt)—a 4.5-mile, six-lane east-west highway built in the Akron in the 1970s—was developed with the hopes of saving a dwindling Northern Ohio population by revitalizing the city center, only to further contribute to emigration by demolishing historic black neighborhoods and economically segregating the downtown area from the more commercial West Hill neighborhood. What’s more, while the good-intentioned freeway was regularly underused for the entirety of its existence, it still had higher-than-usual accident rates, perhaps due to its curving shapes, Pop-Up City reports.

Last year, San Francisco-based artist Hunter Franks hosted a 500-person lunch on the highway to bring locals together and crowd source solutions for what the freeway should become once it was to close later in the year. With many ideas arising, the most frequent response, according to Hunter Franks, was to build out a forest-like community space that will serve as the connective tissue between the disjointed neighborhoods.

The Inner Loop in Rochester, New York, one of the locations for Freeways Without Futures 2017. Photo: Congress for the New Urbanism

The Innerbelt National Forest project, Hunter Franks’s 2017 Knights Cities Challenge’s winning grant, which netted him a quarter of a million dollars to bring the collective vision of the Akron public to life, is set to last a total of three months starting April 2018. By transforming two-acres of the retired highway space lush trees, light installations and common grounds, Franks hopes to facilitate a more organic dialogue around the long-term future of the central city space. He’ll encourage these connections by hiring three locals to represent the bordering neighborhoods in key decision-making, organizing community engagement events and recruiting volunteers.

By utilizing participatory resources to revitalize the community, this exciting project will rely on the vitality of the people to manifest a more powerful and unified vision. Of course, it’s not the only one catalyzing change; with nine other urban highway reconstructions happening simultaneously in different pockets of the country, the Freeways Without Futures 2017 is evolving neighborhood infrastructures with effective and ergonomic solutions all the same.

Hunter Franks | Freeways Without Futures 2017


Lead Image: Hunter Franks, 500 Plates

A project dubbed ‘Freeways Without Futures 2017’ from the Congress for the New Urbanism (CNU) seeks to fuse decades of lessons, resources, strategies and efforts to innovate urban highway removal practices. Having set its sights on 10 specific highways within the United States, the venture hopes to empower forward-thinking engineers, political leaders and local highway teardown advocates to repair the damaging physical, economic and environmental consequences these structures have had on their environments.

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