Right In The Way: Generations Of Highway Impacts In HoustonRoundup
tags: urban history, Houston, urban renewal, transportation, highways
Kyle Shelton is the deputy director at Rice University’s Kinder Institute for Urban Research, where he leads research on urban development, transportation, and placemaking, as well as on urban and metropolitan governance. Shelton has a PhD in american history from The University of Texas at Austin. His research focuses on how the intersections of transportation, urban development, and policy shape the built and natural environments of cities in the past and today. He is the author of Power Moves: Transportation, Politics and Development in Houston.
For decades, residents of Clayton Homes and Kelley Village, two of Houston’s largest public housing developments, witnessed the shape of their neighborhoods shift due to ever-changing highways bordering their communities. Each time a road widening was proposed, the communities and the residents had their worlds changed. Landscapes shifted. Routes to work and school were blocked. Homes and community institutions were displaced. While the residents, and many others like them, have absorbed these impacts for generations, at no point have these Houstonians had the chance to meaningfully shape the highway projects that impact them.
When it was originally built in the 1950s, Clayton Homes was situated along Buffalo Bayou, a stone’s throw from Houston’s central business district. Not more than a decade after opening, though, the Texas Department of Highways (now the Texas Department of Transportation (TxDOT)) built US Highway 59, now Interstate 69, on land adjacent to the community. A bridge went soaring over the edge of Clayton Homes. The new roadway obscured the view of the city and the city’s view of residents.
When the US 59/Interstate 10 interchange was built in the 1960s in the middle of the historically Black Fifth Ward, the eastern-running arm of Interstate 10 removed large swaths of buildings from the south and east sides of Kelley Homes. As I discuss in my book Power Moves, the intersecting highways decimated the Fifth Ward—bisecting the community and removing more than 900 structures in the footprint of the interchange alone.
Today, each of these housing developments, and the broader communities in which they sit, are facing the impacts of yet another highway widening as TxDOT considers realigning Houston’s major interstates through its North Houston Highway Improvement Project (NHHIP). The multi-billion-dollar project would affect three highways within the central business district and widen several sections of Interstate 45 to the northwest. If the project comes to fruition as planned, many of the same communities that have been most directly impacted by Houston’s highway development will again bear the brunt of the expansion.
This story is repeated across the nation in highway-side communities.
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