|Portland, OR. (Museum of the City)|
Now as the material underlying one of the early urban freeways in central Arkansas nears the end of its useful life, the busy bees at the Arkansas Highway and Transportation Department are preparing to rebuild around seven miles of it at a direct cost of $500-$700 million. Some projections already put the medium-term costs at $4 BILLION to deal with the increased traffic and new bottlenecks resulting from the downtown I-30 enlargement.
Sitting on the cusp of an expenditure totaling over $4 billion essentially rebuilding a system that originated in a grand 1950s-era experiment should put one in a contemplative mood. Slipping into just such a mental state today got me to wondering: did people in the 1950s have any ideas that later turned out to be bad? Hmm... let's see...
Asbestos filters for cigarettes:
|For reals? For reals. (Stanford School of Medicine)|
Piling an entire neighborhood worth of kids into the back of a station wagon:
|Looks like fun. (Cruello)|
Twinge of nostalgia for bygone, simpler times? Sure. Ok, maybe. A good model for parents arranging kids in a car today? No way.
Flying huge jets in the skies above us with OPERATING NUCLEAR REACTORS inside:
|Yep, that's an atom in the circle (Wikipedia)|
Massive swaths of high-rise public housing
|Pruitt-Igoe in the beginning (Law Professors Blog Network)|
|Pruitt-Igoe in the end (Designerly Thinking)|
|Once the law of the land. (UGA Law Library)|
So, what's the point of all this? Of course I know that there were plenty of good ideas developed in the 1950s (hula hoops, woot woot!). But, we have to put the origins of our interstate system into context, especially the parts that plunge through neighborhoods and civic centers and potentially productive, valuable land. Urban interstates were an experiment, and we have to be cognizant of the very real possibility that they were a failed experiment that we need to move on and grow from. It might cause some short-term consternation, and it might not be quite as obvious as our collective evaluation of asbestos, nucular aeroplanes, toting kids around at 55 mph with no provisions for safety, public housing high rises, and racial segregation. But, by ignoring the problem and just going along with business as usual, we're setting ourselves up to having to live with the mistake for another half century. Let's not do that.