Equity and Interstates

Today at work I attended a Brown Bag lunch session where one of my colleagues was the guest speaker. His topic was on how policies in government have affected the development of interstates to the detriment of poor and minority populations in the Twin Cities. Urban development is something I’ve always had an interest in, and my wife and I share an interest in how policies of the past have impacted people in a non-equitable way.

One of the most interesting cases in the Twin Cities is the development of Interstate 94 and how it destroyed the Rondo neighborhood. Growing up in Saint Paul I was very familiar with what happened to Rondo in the 60s, but it’s still amazing to see how it was just one of many spots in the metro that were affected by racial and economic biases.

My colleague, Geoff Maas, has put together a couple of maps that I want to share, along with another article that he contributed to. Basically, in 1935 a cartographer named Calvin Schmid labeled the various areas of Minneapolis and Saint Paul, based on the types of people who were living there. Many of these labels were racially charged, but they became the defacto method by which many of the cities transportation networks were laid out. Geoff Maas took this older data and digitized and colored it, and then overlaid it with the maps of where the interstates eventually ended up.

StPaul1935_PDF

In these maps you can see how I-94 in particular was driven straight through minority and poor sections of the city. The Rondo neighborhood in Saint Paul is one obvious example, but also the curve where I-94 turns north in Minneapolis. This was a small area that was mostly apartments, surrounded by much nicer homes. It became the focal point for where the freeway made a major shift, including the building of a large tunnel.

Minneapolis1935_PDF

The Twin Cities certainly aren’t unique in our inequity of road systems, other cities have had their fair share of racial bias as well. It’s just very striking when you use technology to visually show how much bias was involved in our high speed interstate system. Today was once again a reminder that many of our working poor and minorities are where they are because of a long history that has marginalized them.

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