If part of a body is sick, the whole body can’t be healthy, and many cities across America have parts that aren’t doing very well. But there are regions that are trying to become healthier by coming together, rather than pulling apart. Tearing down a highway can be one way to do this. But it’s not the only way. My colleague Derek Thompson has written about the miracle of Minneapolis, where high-income communities share tax revenues and real estate with lower-income communities to spread prosperity. A year ago, I visited Louisville, where a court ordered the county and city to combine their school districts in order to integrate their schools. Today, Louisville is still trying to keep its county and city schools integrated, even after the Supreme Court told the city it no longer had to do so. In Chicago, a regional housing authority that covers eight counties, including Cook County, is working to move families from the inner city to higher-opportunity neighborhoods. Some cities use inclusive zoning, in which all new construction must include a certain percentage of housing for low-income residents, which means that the wealthy can’t separate themselves from the poor.
My interest in highways and roads started earlier when I was a teen living in Connecticut. Roads and highways throughout New England have colorful histories. Official sites only hint at the local legend and lore. Rich tapestries woven of family histories, geological realities, pre-Revolution decisions, and “because” shaped the paths that became the highways of New England.
Yet that’s not where I started.
Interstate 84 runs through Connecticut connecting Pennsylvania and New York with Massachusetts. It’s a remarkably dull road, no doubt a tribute to its efficiency.
After my family moved to Connecticut in the late 1980s, we traversed that ribbon of concrete many times. I paid keen attention to one sign along the way, a sign that made no sense yet fascinated me to no end.
“I-84 Ends, I-86 to Boston”
It was still I-84 and remains so to this day. Somewhere I have pictures of the I-86 signage in Connecticut, which I think persisted until the 1990s. There’s a whole history behind this – the highway near my house that wasn’t. It kicked off my interest in roads and highways.
Toss in family dynamics – paternal side are Yankees (though didn’t arrive in the US until the 1920-1930s; settling in Michigan, Wisconsin & Minnesota) and maternal side are Dixie (I won’t call them Rebels or Confederates as there’s no documentation my family fought in the Civil War). Come 2000 and I & mine live within a mile of Woodward Avenue.
My interest in the Dixie Highway becomes more clear.