WIT Press

The Highway And The American City


Free (open access)





Page Range

323 - 334




1,510 kb

Paper DOI



WIT Press


T. Shelton


This paper traces the history of the difficult relationship between the highway and the American city. The highway/urban interface is seen as the site of a struggle for primacy between the infrastructure of the highway, which prioritizes speed and individual experience, and types of ‘gentle infrastructures’ that support the intricate interactions of groups of people in complex urban environments. Particular attention is given to the inequities that arise as a result of the conflict between these two types of infrastructure – inequities that have both social and environmental dimensions and that eventually sparked numerous revolts against urban highways. This conflict is set against the backdrop of the early development of the highway in America as a predominantly rural phenomenon. The highway is seen both as playing an important role in the economic development of the American countryside and as serving as a means through which ideas about national identity were projected onto the continental landscape. In the countryside at large scales and high speeds, and nearly without conflicting ‘gentle infrastructure’, the social reading of the highway is a predominately positive one, although its environmental impact remains somewhat troubling. It is suggested then that failure to understand how social interpretation of the highway must change with its context led to its misapplication in the American city. Finally, the paper examines the recent trend of eliminating urban segments of the highway system. It is suggested that this movement presents the possibility of introducing numerous environmentally progressive infrastructures into the fabric of the city, which might otherwise be too crowded to receive them. Keywords: urban, infrastructure, highway, cities.


urban, infrastructure, highway, cities