Karrie Jacobs


January 22, 2009

Infrastructure: My Two Cents

A Gowanus Expressway off-ramp, Sunset Park, Brooklyn.

My latest Metropolis column is “Rethinking the Interstate.” It’s my call to re-examine how we use the two million-plus acres occupied by the the interstate highway system and the surrounding landscape that has been shaped, over the years, by the highways. Rather than simply rebuilding and repairing, we need to remake this ultimate 20th century artifact to accomplish 21st century goals. Basically, it’s an argument for adaptive reuse. Please take a look:

But it’s time for us to look at the interstate system not as an aging network of highways in need of repair or replacement but instead as we might look at a navigable river. Congressman Earl Blumenauer, of Portland, Oregon, a noted infrastructure advocate, says the system represents “a tremendous national untapped resource.” It encompasses a lot of land. Funds were appropriated at the outset for the purchase of two million acres; according to one estimate, the system actually takes up 40 acres per mile, or 1.87 million acres. But what if we could make those highways beautiful, not by removing bill­boards, as Lady Bird Johnson did in the 1960s, but by using the corridors for more than moving cars and trucks? What if we thought of them as the backbone of a new, more diverse 21st-century transportation system? “It’s time for a different vision,” Blumenauer says. “And a principle for that is how we coax more out of existing resources.”

Underneath the Gowanus Expressway, endless unloved, underused acres.