Visualizing the Footprint of Highways in American Cities - Visual Capitalist
Connect with us

Inequality

Visualizing the Footprint of Highways in American Cities

Published

on

Footprint of Highways in American Cities

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.

Map of the US Interstate System

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.

Inner Cities

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.

Oakland
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.

Miami Highway
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.

Providence Highway
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.

Cincinnati Highway
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.

Detroit highway construction
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 Highway
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.

Subscribe to Visual Capitalist
Click for Comments

Inequality

Visualizing Literacy Rates Around the World

Global literacy rates have increased in the last few decades, but some countries are still lagging behind, especially in Sub-Saharan Africa.

Published

on

Literacy Rates Worldwide

Visualizing Literacy Rates Around the World

For many people around the world, the ability to read is an essential tool that’s needed for day-to-day life. Yet, despite its importance, approximately 773 million people across the globe do not have access to this basic, often life-saving skill. When it comes to literacy rates, which countries are leading the way, and which ones are lagging behind?

This graphic by Eleonora Nazander visualizes literacy rates in over 150+ countries and provides a breakdown of male versus female literacy rates in each country, using data from UNESCO.

Countries with The Highest Literacy Rates

From 1960 to 2015, global literacy has grown from 42% to 86%—an approximate 4% increase every five years.

While overall literacy rates have increased, some countries have seen more growth than others. Out of the countries included in the dataset, here’s a look at the countries with the highest literacy rates, according to the latest available figures:

CountryFemale Literacy RateMale Literacy Rate
🇺🇦 Ukraine100.0%100.0%
🇺🇿 Uzbekistan100.0%100.0%
🇪🇪 Estonia99.9%99.9%
🇱🇻 Latvia99.9%99.9%
🇸🇲 San Marino99.9%99.9%
🇨🇺 Cuba99.8%99.7%
🇱🇹 Lithuania99.8%99.8%
🇷🇺 Russia99.7%99.7%
🇦🇲 Armenia99.7%99.8%
🇧🇾 Belarus99.7%99.8%
🇰🇿 Kazakhstan99.7%99.8%
🇹🇯 Tajikistan99.7%99.8%
🇦🇿 Azerbaijan99.7%99.9%
🇧🇧 Barbados99.6%99.6%
🇸🇮 Slovenia99.6%99.7%
🇹🇲 Turkmenistan99.6%99.8%
🇹🇴 Tonga99.5%99.4%
🇵🇼 Palau99.5%99.5%
🇬🇪 Georgia99.5%99.7%
🇰🇬 Kyrgyzstan99.5%99.7%

All countries on this list have nationwide literacy rates above 99%, with Ukraine and Uzbekistan both clocking in at 100%.

One country on this list that’s worth touching on is Cuba. The country’s high literacy rate of 99.8% is arguably the result of a campaign that dictator Fidel Castro launched in 1961, which aimed to abolish illiteracy in the country. In less than a year, more than 700,000 Cubans learned basic literary skills.

While Castro’s government imposed rigid censorship and is labeled by critics as an oppressive regime, this literacy campaign also likely influenced surrounding Latin American countries, leading to improved literacy rates in the region.

Countries with the Lowest Literacy Rates

On the other end of the spectrum, here’s a look at the countries on the list with the lowest literacy rates. As the data shows, a staggering amount of the world’s illiterate population is in Sub-Saharan Africa:

CountryFemale Literacy RateMale Literacy Rate
🇹🇩 Chad14.0%38.9%
🇳🇪 Niger22.6%39.1%
🇸🇸 South Sudan28.9%40.3%
🇬🇳 Guinea22.0%43.6%
🇲🇱 Mali25.7%46.2%
🇧🇫 Burkina Faso32.7%50.1%
🇨🇫 Central African Republic25.8%50.7%
🇸🇱 Sierra Leone34.9%51.6%
🇨🇮 Côte d'Ivoire40.5%53.7%
🇧🇯 Benin31.1%54.0%
🇦🇫 Afghanistan29.8%55.5%
🇮🇶 Iraq44.0%56.2%
🇪🇹 Ethiopia44.4%59.2%
🇬🇲 Gambia41.6%61.8%
🇬🇼 Guinea-Bissau30.8%62.2%
🇱🇷 Liberia34.1%62.7%
🇲🇷 Mauritania43.4%63.7%
🇰🇲 Comoros53.0%64.6%
🇵🇬 Papua New Guinea57.9%65.3%
🇭🇹 Haiti58.3%65.3%

The country with the lowest literacy rate covered in this data is Chad, coming in at just 14.0% for female literacy and 38.9% for male literacy. This is due to a number of factors, one being poor access to education. In 2019, more than 700,000 children weren’t in school, and almost 500,000 of them were female.

However, it is worth noting that Chad’s youth population is much more literate than its senior population—over 30% of youth (aged 15-24) are literate, compared to just 7% of seniors (aged 65+) which shows how education has improved over the years—even if there’s still a long way to go.

Gender Disparities in Global Literacy

A broad target in the official list of the UN’s Sustainable Development Goal 4 is to close the gender gap in education. And as the data shows, some regions are already meeting this target, with most countries in Central Asia, Europe, Northern America, Eastern and South-Eastern Asia, and Latin America already at virtual gender parity for literacy.

That being said, countries in Northern Africa, Sub-Saharan Africa, Western Asia, and Southern Asia are still showing significant disparities between genders. Here’s a look at the countries with the largest gender gaps in literacy:

CountryMale literacyFemale literacyGender Gap (p.p.)
🇬🇼 Guinea-Bissau62.2%30.8%31.4%
🇱🇷 Liberia62.7%34.1%28.6%
🇦🇴 Angola80.0%53.4%26.6%
🇹🇬 Togo77.3%51.2%26.1%
🇸🇳 Senegal66.3%40.4%25.9%
🇦🇫 Afghanistan55.5%29.8%25.7%
🇨🇫 Central African Republic50.7%25.8%24.9%
🇹🇩 Chad38.9%14.0%24.9%
🇵🇰 Pakistan71.1%46.5%24.6%
🇧🇯 Benin54.0%31.1%22.9%

Guinea-Bissau in West Africa has the greatest gender literacy gap, with a literacy rate for males that is 31.4 percentage points higher than females. One possible reason for the gap is the high instances of child marriage in the country—approximately 37% of women are married before they’re 18.

While various organizations have created programs to help girls in Guinea-Bissau stay in school, a gap of this size will likely take considerable time and effort to close.

Continue Reading

Misc

Visualizing Women’s Economic Rights Around the World

In recent years, many economies have made women’s rights a priority, yet only 10 countries in the world offer full legal protections to women.

Published

on

Women's Rights in Each Country

Visualizing Women’s Economic Rights in Each Country

In recent years, many economies have made women’s rights a priority by eliminating job restrictions, working to reduce the gender wage gap, or changing legislation related to marriage and parenthood.

Still, many laws continue to inhibit women’s ability to enter the workforce or start a business—and even to travel outside their homes in the same way as men. In fact, on average globally, women have just three-quarters of the economic rights of men.

This map uses data from the Women, Business and Law 2021 report by the World Bank, to visualize women’s economic rights around the world.

Legal Protections

According to the World Bank, only 10 countries offer full legal protections to women, and all of them are in the Northern Hemisphere.

In ranking countries, the institution considers indicators like equal remuneration, legal rights, and mobility. A score of 100 means that women are on equal legal standing with men across all areas measured.

RankCountry/TerritoryScore
1Belgium100.0
1Canada100.0
1Denmark100.0
1France100.0
1Iceland100.0
1Ireland100.0
1Latvia100.0
1Luxembourg100.0
1Portugal100.0
1Sweden100.0
2Estonia97.5
2Finland97.5
2Germany97.5
2Greece97.5
2Italy97.5
2Netherlands97.5
2New Zealand97.5
2Spain97.5
2United Kingdom97.5
3Australia96.9
3Austria96.9
3Hungary96.9
3Norway96.9
3Slovenia96.9
4Peru95.0
5Paraguay94.4
6Croatia93.8
6Czech Republic93.8
6Lithuania93.8
6Poland93.8
6Serbia93.8
7Kosovo91.9
7Mauritius91.9
8Albania91.3
8Cyprus91.3
8Taiwan, China91.3
8United States91.3
9Bulgaria90.6
9Romania90.6
10Ecuador89.4
10Hong Kong, China89.4
11Bolivia88.8
11El Salvador88.8
11Malta88.8
11Mexico88.8
11Uruguay88.8
12Lao PDR88.1
12Montenegro88.1
12South Africa88.1
13Guyana86.9
13Zimbabwe86.9
14Cabo Verde86.3
14Dominican Republic86.3
14Namibia86.3
14Nicaragua86.3
14São Tomé and Príncipe86.3
15Georgia85.6
15Switzerland85.6
16Bosnia and Herzegovina85.0
16Brazil85.0
16Korea, Rep.85.0
16North Macedonia85.0
16Slovak Republic85.0
16Venezuela85.0
17Moldova84.4
17Togo84.4
18Liberia83.8
18Puerto Rico (US)83.8
18St. Lucia83.8
19Costa Rica83.1
19Côte d'Ivoire83.1
19Timor-Leste83.1
20Armenia82.5
20Fiji82.5
20Mongolia82.5
20Mozambique82.5
20Singapore82.5
20Turkey82.5
20United Arab Emirates82.5
21Colombia81.9
21Japan81.9
21Vietnam81.9
22Bahamas81.3
22Tanzania81.3
22Zambia81.3
23Grenada80.6
23Israel80.6
23Kenya80.6
23Nepal80.6
23Rwanda80.6
24Chile80.0
24Samoa80.0
24San Marino80.0
24Saudi Arabia80.0
25Belize79.4
25Burkina Faso79.4
25Panama79.4
25Ukraine79.4
26Azerbaijan78.8
26Congo, Dem. Rep.78.8
26Kiribati78.8
26Philippines78.8
26Tajikistan78.8
27Lesotho78.1
27Thailand78.1
28Benin77.5
28Malawi77.5
29Barbados76.9
29Central African Republic76.9
29Ethiopia76.9
29Kyrgyz Republic76.9
30Argentina76.3
30Guinea76.3
30Seychelles76.3
31Belarus75.6
31China75.6
31Morocco75.6
32Cambodia75.0
32Ghana75.0
32Honduras75.0
32Trinidad and Tobago75.0
33Gambia74.4
33India74.4
33Madagascar74.4
34Maldives73.8
34Suriname73.8
35Angola73.1
35Burundi73.1
35Russia73.1
35Uganda73.1
36Bhutan71.9
37St. Kitts and Nevis71.3
38Guatemala70.6
38Uzbekistan70.6
39South Sudan70.0
40Eritrea69.4
40Kazakhstan69.4
40Sierra Leone69.4
41Dijibouti68.1
41Jamaica68.1
41Marshall Islands68.1
41St. Vicent and the Grenadines68.1
42Tunisia67.5
43Senegal66.9
44Antigua and Barbuda66.3
44Chad66.3
45Sri Lanka65.6
46Comoros65.0
47Indonesia64.4
48Botswana63.8
48Haiti63.8
48Micronesia63.8
49Nigeria63.1
50Dominica62.5
51Mali60.6
52Cameroon60.0
52Papua New Guinea60.0
53Niger59.4
54Myanmar58.8
54Palau58.8
54Tonga58.8
55Vanuatu58.1
56Algeria57.5
56Gabon57.5
57Solomon Islands56.9
58Bahrain55.6
58Pakistan55.6
59Brunei Darussalam53.1
60Lebanon52.5
61Equatorial Guinea51.9
62Libya50.0
62Malaysia50.0
63Bangladesh49.4
63Congo, Rep.49.4
64Mauritania48.1
65Jordan46.9
65Somalia46.9
66Eswatini46.3
67Egypt45.0
67Iraq45.0
68Guinea-Bissau42.5
69Afghanistan38.1
70Syria36.9
71Oman35.6
72Iran31.3
73Qatar29.4
73Sudan29.4
74Kuwait28.8
75Yemen26.9
76West Bank and Gaza26.3

According to the report, there are 20 economies in the world where women still have half or fewer of the legal economic rights of men.

Under Taliban rule, for example, women in Afghanistan have limited access to education and work. In the Gaza Strip, women must have the permission of a male guardian to travel.

Yet, some differences are also seen in developed countries.

In the U.S, women still earn an average of about 82 cents for each dollar earned by men, and the gap across many countries in Europe is similar. Meanwhile, women are represented in just 23% of seats in national parliaments globally, and make up just 13% of agricultural landholders.

The Shadow Pandemic

COVID-19 has exacerbated existing inequalities that disadvantage girls and women, including barriers to attend school and maintain jobs, according to the United Nations.

In fact, new research shows that the sectors that have been most affected by the pandemic so far are those with high levels of women workers, including the restaurant and hospitality business, as well as the travel sector.

While leaders debate recovery in a post-pandemic world, rights equality remains a central topic for social and economic development.

Continue Reading

Subscribe

Popular