President Eisenhower may have not been aware, when signing the Federal-Aid Highway Act of 1956, that many of the 41,000 miles of road would be built through densely populated areas, but that’s exactly what happened. The lanes built to help move troops quickly and connect suburban residents to jobs in cities ended up disconnecting urban neighborhoods, creating challenges for urban planners.
In California’s West Oakland, for example, interstates separate the lower-income community from much wealthier neighborhoods, including Emeryville, Temescal, the downtown district and Jack London Square. Walking beneath these highways in and out of West Oakland is unappealing because residents have to walk through dark underpasses. The uncomfortable feeling people get travelling underneath highways inhibits community-to-community interaction.
These underpasses can be perfect spots for community gatherings, however. Let’s take some time to imagine what could be. With its prominent art and music scene, Oakland can beautify these traditionally avoided areas by illuminating the streets and painting murals on the walls. The City could host regular street festivals to unite neighborhoods, similar to the Oakland Art Murmur’s monthly First Friday art walk.
Local artists could produce artwork that reflects the identity of their urban community and make them prominent with unique lighting. Street performers and food vendors could gather underneath the interstate and celebrate art while allowing residents to commune. The resources are there, but it is a matter of bringing them to a new spot.
The goal behind this is similar to that of many street festivals. People from different neighborhoods would have a reason to go to an area that they may have not otherwise ventured into. Many avoid underpasses altogether because the homeless often reside at these spots.
In addition, the grunge culture that once encompassed Oakland would have an opportunity to diffuse with the upcoming hipster movement. Oakland is a city, and like any city, it is dynamic and it will change. It is important the City embraces the naturally emerging culture while honoring what is already there.
What sort of unique street festivals are hosted, or lacking, in your neighborhood?
Credits: Data and images linked to source.