Visualizing the Footprint of Highways in American Cities
Driving on the open road is a defining feature of the American experience, made possible by coast-to-coast highways. It defined a generation of life and ingrained the automobile into the urban fabric of American cities, for better and worse.
Today’s animations show how highways reshaped the downtown cores of six American cities and created new patterns of urban life. But first, some background information on the creation of the interstate system.
The Interstate Highway System
The U.S. Interstate System was created on June 29, 1956, when Dwight Eisenhower signed the Federal-Aid Highway Act. It would eventually run 46,876 miles, cost $521 billion and take 36 years to complete.
From San Diego to Bangor, the interstate highway system connected Americans and opened up the country to commerce and geographic mobility like never before, but for all its benefits, this new transportation network ripped through established patterns of urban and town life, creating a new era of urban development.
The Legacy of Highways: The Suburbs and Inner Cities
The vast geography of continental America helped to entrench personal mobility and freedom into American society. Highways and automobiles accelerated this lifestyle and even changed the shape of entire cities.
According to Prof. Nathaniel Baum-Snow of the University of Toronto, between 1950 and 1990, the population of central cities in the U.S. declined by 17% despite a population growth of 72% in larger metropolitan areas during the same period. Baum-Snow posits that, had the interstate highway system not been built, central cities’ populations would have increased 8%.
Firms followed the workers to the suburbs, but the highways system also created additional benefits for these firms. Cross-country road access freed manufacturing from ports and downtown rail hubs, while allowing economies to operate across larger distances, altering the dynamics of typical urban economies.
Faced with this new reality, inner cities struggled in years to come.
The introduction of highways created an increase in the supply of land for development through faster commutes to outlying areas. In 1950, half of all jobs were located in central cities. By 1990, less than one-third of urban jobs were located in the core of American cities.
“Not TV or illegal drugs but the automobile has been the chief destroyer of American communities.” Jane Jacobs, Author The Death and Life of Great American Cities
Benefits of new development accrued to the outer areas while the construction of the highways in inner cities displaced largely low-income communities, segregated neighborhoods, increased the amount of air and noise pollution, devalued surrounding properties, and removed access to jobs for those without a car, further concentrating poverty.
Before and After: Six American Cities
A bird’s eye view of six American cities reveals what was and what is now. By overlaying existing highways over the neighborhoods they replaced, it becomes clear how much interstate construction drastically altered America’s urban landscape.
Public opposition to the construction of I-980 was so strong that developers abandoned the project in 1971, only to complete it over a decade later.
The I-95 carved through Miami’s largely black Overtown neighborhood. The construction of a single highway cloverleaf resulted in 20 square blocks being demolished, displacing over 10,000 people in that community.
The I-95 comprised unconnected segments between 1957 and 1965 through the densest urban areas in a deliberate effort to prevent premature suburbanization and to revitalize the downtown core.
The I-71 cuts downtown Cincinnati off from its waterfront and a massive freeway interchange forced the destruction of dozens of blocks west of downtown.
Freeway construction transformed Detroit between 1951 and 2010. Previously, its downtown had been surrounded by a high-density street grid. Today, it’s totally encircled by freeways.
Rochester is one of many cities opting to undertake freeway removal projects.
As the dotted line above shows, the “moat” surrounding downtown is slowly being removed. The city used reclaimed land from the Inner Loop freeway to construct three mixed-use developments that include below-market-rate units.
The Future of Urban Living: Do Highways Matter?
A new era of living is reconsidering the impacts of these highways on urban centers. As property values rise and existing housing stock is pressured, there are growing concerns over the environmental impacts of suburban life. As a result, urban planners and residents are looking to revitalize city cores and re-purpose land occupied by burdensome slabs of highway concrete.
Since 1987, there have been more than 20 urban highway segments removed from downtown cores, neighborhoods and waterfronts, mostly in North America. The pace of removals has picked up significantly and an additional 10 highways are now planned for removal in the United States.
During the COVID-19 pandemic, American cities have seen their traffic plummet. Rush-hour trips into cities are taking nearly half the time while some are not even commuting at all.
While this situation is likely temporary, it is offering a moment for reflection of how cities operate and whether the car should be at the center of urban planning.
*Hat tip to Shane Hampton, whose 60 Years of Urban Change compilation served as inspiration for this article. Visit that page for many more examples of highway impact on cities.
How COVID-19 Has Impacted Black-White Financial Inequality
COVID-19 has worsened Black-White financial inequality, with Black Americans more likely to see negative impacts to their job and income.
How COVID-19 Impacted Black-White Financial Inequality
COVID-19 has disrupted everything from economic markets to personal finances, but not everyone feels its effects equally. When compared with White Americans, Black Americans’ financial situations have been disproportionately affected by the pandemic.
In this infographic from McKinsey & Co., we outline the financial vulnerabilities of Black Americans, their increased usage of financial services since the onset of the pandemic, and their lower satisfaction levels with those services.
Financial Vulnerabilities of Black Americans
Compared to White Americans, more Black Americans say their job and income have been negatively impacted by COVID-19.
|My job has been negatively impacted by COVID-19||My income has been negatively impacted by COVID-19|
Looking forward, Black Americans also report greater job security concerns and have less savings to protect themselves financially. In the event of a job loss, 57% of Black Americans report their savings would last four months or less, compared with 44% of White Americans.
With less of a cash buffer on hand, Black consumers are also more likely to have missed a recent bill payment.
|Skipped at least 1 payment||Partially paid at least 1 bill||Paid in full|
This includes being unable to pay for basic items such as utilities, telephone and internet, and mortgage payments.
How do they begin to manage these challenges?
Use of Financial Services
Black Americans increased their use of financial services more than White Americans.
Banking activities in the past two weeks, per March-June 2020 surveys
|Withdrew cash||Deposited cash||Deposited checks||Contacted bank for service on account||Opened new accounts||Received advice on digital tool usage|
For example, Black Americans were about twice as likely to request account service, open an account, or receive advice on digital tools. In addition, Black families were more likely to leverage a fintech platform and have been more active in opening fintech accounts since the start of the COVID-19 crisis.
However, as Black Americans seek out more financial help, some are not happy with the service they receive.
Satisfaction with Financial Services
Overall, Black families are less satisfied than White families across all types of financial activities. These differences were most pronounced for digital tool advice, where 38% of Black Americans were dissatisfied or very dissatisfied, compared with just 12% of White Americans.
Even though Black people were less satisfied with banking services, they were more likely to say that bank performance was above their expectations. This may suggest that expectations are lower for Black families than they are for White families.
Black Americans were also much less likely to trust their financial advisor.
|Do not trust/losing trust||Indifferent||Gaining trust/trust|
From March-June 2020, the percentage of Black people distrusting their advisors rose from 12% to 32%. Over the same time period, White people’s distrust of financial advisors remained stable at 10%.
A notable exception: White and Black Americans were both satisfied with fintech providers. Only 5% of White Americans and 8% of Black Americans expressed some level of dissatisfaction with fintech companies.
Time to Examine the Financial System?
COVID-19 has perpetuated Black-White financial inequality. Data shows that Black families are more likely to be financially vulnerable, and increase their use of financial services during the COVID-19 crisis. However, they are less likely to feel satisfied with these services.
Financial institutions can urgently review their remote and in-person customer service procedures to ensure the needs of all families are being met.
The Racial Wealth Gap in America: Asset Types Held by Race
White families are more likely to hold assets of any type compared to other races. This chart highlights the substantial racial wealth gap.
The Racial Wealth Gap
People of color have faced economic inequality for generations, and the recent wave of Black Lives Matter protests has renewed discussions on these disparities.
Compared to White families, other races have lower levels of income and net worth. They are also less likely to hold assets of any type. In fact, 19% of Black families have zero or negative net worth, while only 9% of White households have no wealth.
Today’s chart uses data from the U.S. Federal Reserve’s triennial Survey of Consumer Finances to highlight the racial wealth gap, and the proportion of households that own different kinds of assets by racial group.
Asset Types Held By Race
The financial profile between racial groups varies widely. Below is the percentage of U.S. families with each type of asset, according to the most recent survey from 2016.
|Family-owned Business Equity||15%||7%||6%||13%|
Vehicles are the most common asset across all racial groups, followed by a primary residence.
However, the level of equity—or home value less debts—families have in their houses differs by race. White families have equity of $215,800, whereas Black and Hispanic households have net housing wealth of $94,400 and $129,800 respectively.
In addition, White households are more likely to hold financial assets such as retirement accounts, family businesses, and stocks. These assets are instrumental in building wealth, and are prominent in the wealth composition of America’s richest families.
With fewer people of color holding these assets, they miss out on higher average returns than low-risk assets, as well as the power of compound interest. These portfolio differences are striking, but they are not the most important contributing factor in the racial wealth gap.
Demographic and Economic Variations
White households are also more likely to have demographic characteristics that are associated with wealth. According to the U.S. Federal Reserve, they are:
- Older, with more than half of households age 55 and up
- More highly educated, with 51% having some type of degree
- Less likely to have a single parent
- More likely to have received an inheritance
For example, 39% of White heads of households have a bachelor’s degree or higher, compared to 23% and 17% for Black and Hispanic household heads, respectively. However, education doesn’t fully explain the wealth inequities.
Enormous wealth disparities exist between families with the same education level. Even in cases where Black and Hispanic household heads have obtained a bachelor’s degree, their families’ median wealth of $68,000 and $78,000 respectively is still lower than the $98,000 median wealth for White families where the head has no bachelor’s degree.
After accounting for demographic factors, researchers still found there were considerable inequities. What, then, could be primarily responsible for the racial wealth gap?
The Income Gap
While previous research found that the wealth gap is “too big” to be explained by a difference in income, a recent study from the Federal Reserve Bank of Cleveland offers a new perspective. Focusing on White and Black U.S. households only, researchers analyzed the dynamics of wealth accumulation over time, as opposed to previous studies that considered short time periods.
They found that income inequality was the primary contributor to the racial wealth gap. According to the model, if Black and White households had earned the same labor income from 1962 onwards, the Black-to-White wealth ratio would have reached 0.9 by 2007.
Moving forward, the study concludes that policy changes will likely have a positive impact if they address issues contributing to income gaps. This includes reducing racial discrimination in the labor market, and creating programs, such as mentorships, that improve environments for specific racial subgroups.
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