June 10, 2016

BW photograph of a thin vine bisecting a some fungi on a tree.

Copyright 2016 Kevin P. Mick Photography. All rights reserved.

This photograph is a metaphor for the content that follows.

The Federal-Aid Highway Act was passed in 1956, and it was one of the milestones of President Eisenhower’s administration.  This link is to the U.S. Department of Transportation Federal Highway Administration’s site, which states that this system “…has been called the Greatest Public Works Project in History”.  That claim is true from an engineering standpoint, and the highway system certainly fueled the development of car culture and changed interstate commerce.  However, that is only part of the story:

“Transportation Secretary Anthony Foxx on the Legacy of the U.S. Highway System”

The link above is to The Diane Rehm Show on NPR.  One of the advantages of NPR is that aural learners can actually listen to the discussion.  For those who prefer to read, the articles linked below address the same topic:

“How to Decimate a City”

“The Role of Highways in American Poverty”

These four sources of information all address the same central subject-the U.S. highway system.  However, they present conflicting points-of-view.  The first is a commemoration of the 50th anniversary of the legislation that created it.  The latter are the legacy of the decisions made by those charged with its implementation.  In total, this information presents a fairly comprehensive view of American culture as the highway system provides a microcosm by which to examine the intersection of race, wealth, power, and prestige.  That examination becomes even more compelling when the value placed on convenience and freedom of choice, or lack thereof, is included.

(As an aside, it is important to be aware of confirmation bias.  If one wants to bestow plaudits on a particular subject, there is information to be found to do just that.  If the goal is to criticize, information can be found to do so.  Reviewing the multiple sides of an issue provides a much richer understanding of the complexity of human behavior.)

In writing the conclusion to this post, it struck me that the current crumbling of the highway infrastructure as so grandly envisioned, which is made of concrete, asphalt, and steel, has itself become a metaphor for the subsequent destruction of the quality of life for those flesh and blood people living in the neighborhoods where many of the roads were built.  Money and time can replace the material structure.  Remediating the human toll would take more than that.  It will interesting to see how the re-imagining of the highway system and these neighborhoods progresses.

Take care.