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How Transportation Shaped Black Communities

Transportation is a tool that can be used for the good of the community or the good of one community over another. It can be the glue that holds everything together or be like a knife that divides.  It can be the center of life, culture, and entertainment. It can also be a place where dreams are deferred. For this Black History Month post, I put together a list of some articles, websites, and critical reads on how transportation has shaped black communities for good and for bad.

Thriving Corridors of Life and Culture

U Street NW in the District of Columbia: U Street NW was once a thriving cultural corridor with Black entertainers such as Duke Ellington. Today, his name is used for names of apartment buildings. Here is a list of articles and books about U Street.

Greenwood, Oklahoma: In the early part of the 1900s, Greenwood was dubbed “Black Wall Street”. There were thriving businesses and culture. In 1921 it was all destroyed by the Klu Klux Klan.

Sweet Auburn, Atlanta


Transportation that Divides

Cross Bronx Expressway: Most urban/transportation planners know the name Robert Moses. He was “visionary” behind the highway. Constructing the highway displaced thousands of families and divided the Bronx.

Public Transportation and Highways

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.

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Planning and the Black Community

Ever since I was a little girl, I loved reading. In fourth grade, I read over 100 books during the school year for fun. For Black History Month, I’m sharing some books I’ve read related to planning and the Black community.

Do you have any suggested reads?

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.

Comparison of Baton Rouge and New Orleans Streetscapes

A Tale of Two Networks: Growing up in the suburbs, visiting the city

As part of our series documenting transportation systems that shaped our views, I follow Chanceé and Fabiana in discussing my early experiences with transportation systems. I’m from Louisiana and I spent most of my childhood in Baton Rouge. My maternal grandparents lived in New Orleans in the house where my mom made her debut, graduated, and where family holiday celebrations were still held. Growing up, Baton Rouge and New Orleans had very different transportation options.

The neighborhood in Baton Rouge where I grew up was a typical “Levittown” style suburb, with single family detached homes on lots with front and back yards. Day to day people got around by car, but our neighborhood has sidewalks that connected to retail, school, and recreation centers. The streets in our neighborhood were low volume, so as kids, we walked or biked wherever we needed to go, such as our friends’ houses, without a problem. It was pretty walkable, with most things we might need within a mile. For the first few years we lived there, a grocery store and a big box store were within an 8-10-minute walk. We would walk or ride our bikes there when we just needed a few things, but would drive if we were making a grocery bill. My first official job (besides babysitting) was within walking distance. I knew that there were city buses, but never saw them in our part of town until recent visits home. My only experience with a bus of any sort were the yellow ones that I would take to school every day until my friends got cars and we carpooled. We were a 1 car household after my brother was given his car and had to do a lot of organizing to chain trips to drop everyone off or pick everyone up. There were times when I had to wait to be picked up, but once I had enough money, I bought my own cell phone and could call for a ride.

In contrast, my maternal grandparents lived in New Orleans, just two blocks off the intersection of St. Charles Avenue and Napoleon. New Orleans has an iconic heritage streetcar system and a network of streets designed for walking and horse and buggy. Until Hurricane Katrina, New Orleans had one of the longest continuously running streetcar systems in the country. I grew up riding them with my grandparents on the way to our destinations like the zoo, the Childrens’ museum, and the aquarium. To travel between the Aquarium and zoo, we took a ferry that shuttled people along the Mississippi River. We could easily walk to restaurants, grocery stores, retail, and other amenities. New Orleans drivers are notorious in Louisiana for their, shall we say, ‘bravado’, so we didn’t ever bike in the city. Back then, New Orleans didn’t have the bicycle network it does now. We did drive places, when they were outside of the city or not served by streetcars or other modes. We never took the city bus system in New Orleans, because we had other options to access our destinations.

My early contact with public transit in New Orleans and opposing lack of network in Baton Rouge helped shape my view of transportation and the need for multimodal systems that create that sense of connectivity and thus, freedom of choice and increased quality of life.

Comparison of Baton Rouge and New Orleans Streetscapes(Right- Baton Rouge Suburban Neighborhood, Left- St. Charles Avenue in New Orleans) Images via Google Streetview

 

 

Christine E. Mayeur is an urban planner with a unique set of skills and interests. She has been called a “renaissance woman” by her coworkers and is interested in all things creative and challenging. Christine uses her history of working with communities through grassroots organizations along with her planning skills to help plan transportation systems that meet the needs of all users. 





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