A few years ago, I shared a listing of articles, websites, and critical reads on how transportation has shaped black communities for good and for bad. I provided examples of how transportation was a tool for economic development, and others where it was a tool for destruction. It is one thing to read about the impact building highways had on dividing communities, but what happens when you learn it happened to your family?
Last month, I was the keynote at the Louisiana Smart Growth Summit hosted by the Center for Planning Excellence. The summit was in Baton Rouge, where my mom was born and raised, so I interviewed her prior to preparing my talk. Specifically, I asked her questions about my great grandmother’s house, which I remember being under the I-10 overpass. My mom answered my questions and shared that her house was taken to build I-10.
Like many transportation projects that start as lines on a map, the 1960 map shows the planned route of the I-10 expressway. I’m sure the planners thought about the connectivity, “economic development” of having an expressway, and traffic impacts. Given this was 1960 and in the Jim Crow era, I’m also sure they knew exactly who they would be impacting. Although the map is hard to read, the areas where people were displaced and the communities divided, were Black communities.
Two of the parcels on the map belonged to my family. The parcel highlighted in yellow was owned by my great grandmother. They didn’t take her house to build the highway, but she did have a pillar in her backyard. Her house and the store on the corner, where the only buildings that remained. Her house stood on that parcel until she moved in with my grandparents when I was a child. My family sold the house to the store and it was eventually demolished.
The parcel highlighted in green was owned by my grandparents. My mom said since the two parcels formed an “L” shape, she would run from the back of my grandparents to my great grandmother’s house. My grandparents moved to make way for the highway. Here’s the photo from google street view that shows the property today.
Although my grandparents were able to relocate to a nice neighborhood in Baton Rouge, gone where the days when my mom could run to her grandmother’s house. The highway not only changed the social cohesion of the neighborhood, it also changed how my family was able to interact with each other.
Veronica O. Davis, PE is a transportation guru who uses her knowledge to spark progressive social change. As Co-owner and Principal of Nspiregreen, she is also responsible for the management of the major urban planning functions such as transportation planning, policy development, master planning, sustainability analysis, and long range planning. In July 2012, Veronica was recognized as a Champion of Change by the White House for her professional accomplishments and community advocacy, which includes co-founding Black Women Bike.