Microblog #92: Neighborhood healing

Aging infrastructure leads to renewed calls for urban highway removal

The battle over what to do with the ailing I-81 viaduct in Syracuse, NY has heated up again. In 1961, the roadway opened despite protests from former residents of the African-American 15th Ward, which was destroyed in the name of “urban renewal” to make room for the interstate.

Now, as the viaduct is increasingly expensive to maintain, some suggest tearing it down and rebuilding a neighborhood in its place. However, others say that doing so would allow gentrifiers to move into the nearby Black neighborhood, the South Side.

As many Richmonders know, an eerily similar story played out in Jackson Ward in 1954. Construction of the Richmond-Petersburg Turnpike, now a part of the interstate system, cut through the historic Black neighborhood, destroying thousands of homes and cutting the neighborhood in half.

When the highway trench was cut into the city, it severed the most vibrant part of Jackson Ward in half. Maggie Walker herself owned property in that area, which she rented out as low-income housing, and tap dancer Bill “Bojangles” Robinson was born there.

Today, most of its lots sit empty, the only remaining buildings in states of disrepair. But things may be changing for the better: the Richmond Land Bank recently acquired properties in the area, and will be exploring the best way to reconnect the neighborhood to the rest of the city.

Image: The Richmond-Petersburg Turnpike under construction in Jackson Ward, 1954.

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