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Rethinking an Urban Freeway in New Orleans

urban freeway

Oak trees and street scenes painted on the support pillars of the I-10 overpass on Claiborne Avenue remind New Orleanians that the street was once a tree-lined commercial corridor. Today, the neighborhoods surrounding Claiborne Avenue are a portrait of disinvestment and decay, a decline coinciding with the erection of the I-10 elevated expressway that looms over the street. Like in so many American cities, this area of New Orleans has suffered from the creation of a freeway that cuts through cities. It's a case of public dollars creating freeways that devalue private real estate.

A study in New Orleans aims to re-imagine Claiborne Avenue as a transportation corridor that anchors a more livable community. Funded by federal and local government grants as well as private funding partners, Livable Claiborne Communities is a study that underscores how transportation affects land uses, economic activities and environmental conditions. As teams of architecture and urban planning professionals outline possible scenarios for Claiborne Avenue, principles of community organizing and outreach are being invoked to solicit a wide array of public participation.

development freeway

The study does not just aim for freeway teardown, but seeks to present multiple strategies for revitalizing the Claiborne Avenue communities. While many scenarios are part of the study, demolition of the I-10 elevated expressway into a surface-level boulevard has great appeal for many, gaining interest and support from the Congress for New Urbanism. As this idea gains traction, one lesson about the importance of process is becoming valuable and clear. While a teardown would not automatically rejuvenate the North Claiborne area, the study's participatory process is presenting an exciting opportunity.

As Livable Claiborne Communities attempts a thorough process of community engagement with many stakeholders, experts and residents, a real opportunity is rising to set a vision and a direction for neighborhood revitalization. Someday, when the condition of the elevated freeway necessitates costly repair or alternative action, the discussion and organizing that happens as a result of this study may push forward a progressive plan that rejuvenates the neighborhood.

How else can neighborhoods, cut off and devalued by urban freeways, work to become vibrant communities again?

Credits: Photos by Jessica Yoon. Data linked to sources.