During the development of the Interstate system in Minneapolis and Saint Paul, communities of color and low-income communities were disproportionately affected. Many communities were severed. Streets and walkways that connected different parts of neighborhoods were interrupted by freeways. Looking forward, prioritizing re-establishing neighborhood connections that were lost, and designing new transportation projects will support community cohesion, accessibility, and appropriate size and scale for people.
The building of I-94 through Saint Paul’s Rondo neighborhood completely cut off this historically vibrant and thriving African American neighborhood. This both destroyed community connections and reduced opportunities for financial prosperity. Residents were separated from businesses and services, and those businesses were separated from key markets necessary to their success. Were the project proposed today as built, it would probably fail on the grounds that it disproportionately affected a historically underrepresented community.
While some may argue that the days of community-disruption project plans are over, it’s important to understand that transportation investments must connect communities and enhance access to opportunities rather than disconnecting them, making it more difficult for people to access jobs and opportunities. It’s also important to assure that the people potentially affected by these projects and investments have an opportunity to assess the impact on their own communities and influence the ultimate decision.
With these considerations, whether near an area of concentrated poverty or simply involving a portion of a community that could benefit from access to jobs and commerce, our investments have a better chance of achieving equitable outcomes.