Peter Park knows urban freeways. As planning director in Milwaukee, he helped engineer the dismantling of the Park East Expressway, now a model of downtown transformation that sparked revitalization and distributed traffic safely and efficiently. "It's un-American," he said, to put up with infrastructure -- highways blasted through cities -- that is clearly a "failed experiment" and devalues private property.
Park, who most recently was planning director in Denver, delivered the inaugural lecture in the 2012 spring series March 20 to a standing-room only crowd. The establishment of the Eisenhower Interstate System beginning in 1956 was a remarkable mobilization of government and businesss, financed by the gas tax and complete with an expert marshalling of public support, aided by films by Henry Ford II and Walt Disney, promising freedom and prosperity. The interstate highway system wasn't really designed to go through downtowns, but cities with planners like Robert Moses lusted after federal funding as part of the urban renewal campaign in the 1950s and 60s.
A new campaign to dismantle urban freeways and correct the errors of that era, Park said, should also be based on common values of prosperity, freedom, and a "renewed civic energy," bolstered by the success of the Embarcadero in San Franscisco -- a kind of right-sizing of infrastructure and urban design. America’s failing infrastructure needs to be addressed, he said. In 2009, the American Society of Civil Engineers gave the nation’s infrastructure an overall grade of “D” and proposed that keeping America safe, prosperous, and competitive would require a 5-year expenditure of $2.2 trillion. But taxpayer dollars shouldn't flow to maintaining ineffective freeways or expanding them, he said. A removal campaign -- beginning with the top 10 Freeways without Futures, identified by the Congress for the New Urbanism -- would strengthen cities and metropolitan regions.
Peter J. Park is the 2012 Lincoln-Loeb Fellow. The lecture will be posted soon at the Lectures and Videos page at the Lincoln Institute website.