Monday, July 21, 2014

The Boulevards of Paris and the U.S. Interstates

The wide, open tree-lined Boulevards cut through the ancient fabric of the old city, once called "Lutecia" by the Romans.  They ripped through Paris under the pretense of beautifying and modernizing the city, but there were also military advantages.  Troops could march the boulevards to quell uprisings.

Contrast this to 1950's America.  With national defense as a guiding factor and the rising popularity of the automobile, highways are beginning to cut through urban centers. This dissected once vibrant neighborhoods, and destroyed walkability.  It happened across the country and my hometown of Kansas City was no exception.  The 'Downtown Loop' while convenient for drivers, is still a burden on the urban fabric of the city.  The neighborhoods carved are but a semblance of their former selves and are just beginning to improve half a century later.  Proposals have come forward to 'Cap the Loop' by hiding it with a park which does seem like a perfect remedy to the situation, but could you imagine anyone ever wanting to hide the Champs-Élysées? 

Now, the U.S. Interstate highways are much different from the beautiful boulevards of Paris.  But Paris did something else right. Where highspeed thoroughfares are needed, Paris went underground and away from the city center to do so.  This prevented the destruction of neighborhoods and street life.  Yes there are cost implications, but it makes you wonder how much business was lost by destroying or isolating whole neighborhoods that never recovered with the method the U.S. chose.      


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