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Freeways and Access to Economic Opportunity


The Interstate Highway System altered America’s cities. Freeways lowered costs to commuting between central cities and suburbs but also disrupted the communities through which they were built. These locations were frequently heavily segregated, and community members were often given little input into the planning of freeway construction. Recent research in economics suggests that these freeways create physical barriers, cutting communities off from the rest of their city and its economy. Revisiting these decisions today, what lessons might we learn for city planning that fosters economic inclusion?

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Roundtable Discussion

Key takeaway: Freeways offer lessons on how new technologies can present unforeseen negative effects and on how including the voices of all those affected by group decisions can help to appropriately weigh the costs and benefits of related choices.


Participant Bios

  • Dave Amos is an assistant professor of city and regional planning at California Polytechnic State University, San Luis Obispo and the creator of the YouTube video series City Beautiful. His research focuses on land-use planning, urban design, and active transportation. His YouTube series aims to answer commonly asked planning questions and to increase public education related to urban-planning issues.

  • Jeffrey Lin is a vice president and economist at the Federal Reserve Bank of Philadelphia. His research focuses on cities, regions, and growth. He is also coexecutive director of the Philadelphia Federal Statistical Research Data Center, coeditor of Regional Science and Urban Economics, a member of the editorial board of the Journal of Urban Economics, and cohost of the podcast Densely Speaking: Conversations About Cities, Economics, & Law.

  • Amy Stelly is an artist, designer, planner, and freeway fighter. Her scope of work includes building and open space design, historic restoration, downtown and neighborhood revitalization, environmental planning, municipal zoning, incentives, entitlements, site planning, streetscapes, and gardens. She is a cofounder of the Claiborne Avenue Alliance, a coalition of residents and property owners dedicated to the restoration of the Claiborne Corridor in the Mid-City, Tremé, and Seventh Ward neighborhoods of New Orleans, Louisiana. Her advocacy work for the coalition includes spearheading a recent study of health outcomes for all living or working near urban highways. She edits the Opinion section of the Lens, a New Orleans-based nonprofit and nonpartisan public-interest newsroom.

  • Robert Cervero works in sustainable transportation policy and planning, focusing on the nexus of urban transportation and land-use systems. Dr. Cervero is an advisor and consultant on numerous transportation and urban-planning projects worldwide, most recently advising on long-range planning in Dubai and Singapore. His most recent coauthored book, Beyond Mobility, won the 2019 National Urban Design Best Book Award. He was a member of Berkeley's city and regional planning faculty from 1980 to 2016, for which he twice served as department chair; was the inaugural holder of the Carmel P. Friesen Chair in Urban Studies; and directed both the University of California Transportation Center and the Institute of Urban and Regional Development. He currently has a visiting faculty appointment at the College of Architecture and Urban Planning, Tongji University.

The views expressed in this Cleveland Fed Conversation on Economic Inclusion are those of the participants and are not necessarily those of the Federal Reserve Bank of Cleveland or the Board of Governors of the Federal Reserve System.

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