So, we already know that Congressman Matt Gaetz (R-Fla.) is a Trump-thirst trapping, alleged child sex trafficking, I-need-my-rich-daddy-to-finance-my-failure-up-in-life-because-I-ain’t-shit fuckboi, and I was gonna write about that, but my boss told me we already know that Gaetz is a bird. Instead, she asked me to write about something a bit more substantive: Gaetz’s apparent ignorance on the history of racism in the U.S. transportation system.
The Florida lawmaker went on a Twitter rant this weekend after Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg said during an interview with April Ryan that racism is entrenched in America’s transportation system.
“Well if you’re in Washington, I’m told that the history of that highway is one that was built at the expense of communities of color in the D.C. area,” Buttigieg said. “There are stories and I think Philadelphia and Pittsburgh [and] in New York, Robert Moses famously saw through the construction of a lot of highways.”
He added that “There is racism physically built into some of our highways, and that’s why the jobs plan has specifically committed to reconnect some of the communities that were divided by these dollars.”
Buttigieg’s comments are very much tied to a New York City builder by the name of Robert Moses, whose racist urban planning is chronicled in Robert Caro’s tome, “The Power Broker.” The Pulitzer Prize-winning biography highlights decades of building projects in New York City that displaced people of color out of their homes in the name of skyscrapers, while making it harder for Black folks to get to white neighborhoods by cutting off public transportation in favor of highways.
Here is more on what Moses’ racist urban planning did to New York City, per the Guardian:
You needn’t care especially about New York to be awed by the changes Moses wrought there: during a 44-year reign, he built nearly 700 miles of road, including the giant highways that snake out of the city into Long Island and upstate New York; 20,000 acres of parkland and public beaches, plus 658 playgrounds; seven new bridges; the UN headquarters, the Central Park zooand the Lincoln Center arts complex, racking up expenditures of $27bn, dwarfing any previous run of construction in US history. “In the 20th century,” wrote Lewis Mumford, “the influence of Robert Moses on the cities of America was greater than that of any other person.” Around 500,000 people, who happened to find themselves in the way of Moses’s vision, were evicted from their homes.
Robert Bullard, a professor of urban planning and environmental policy at Texas Southern University, told NPR that race has always determined how cities were developed and that people of color rarely—if ever—had a say.
Much of America’s transportation system was built before sweeping 1960s civil rights legislation, so much of the damage was done. Anyone who is an elected official should know this and should certainly read Robert Caro’s book before commenting on transportation.
But Gaetz doesn’t read and his tweets make that clear:
No, congressman fuckboi, highways aren’t racist. The people who plan where they go, in many instances, were. Streetcars and trolleys were segregated through the 1960s—y’all remember that lady named Rosa Parks?—and access to suburban communities where jobs fled after the “white flight” era were cut because white communities didn’t want Blacks coming to their neighborhoods.
Back in 2015, Detroit resident James Robertson made national news after the Detroit Free Press reported that he walked 21 miles to work five days a week. A big part of that story deals with racism and how the Big Three undermined the development of urban public transport.
Stephanie Gidigbi, a member of the board of directors of the Washington Metropolitan Area Transit Authority and director of policy and partnerships with the Healthy People & Thriving Communities program at the Natural Resources Defense Council, wrote in Politico that airplanes, trains and automobiles widened America’s racial divide.
Here are a few of Gidigbi’s observations:
Transportation spending decisions have also rewritten the story of American communities over the past hundred years—in ways that cost Black communities deeply and benefited white neighborhoods.
Federally funded highway construction bulldozed through established Black communities like Parramore in Orlando, Florida; working-class neighborhoods in Spokane, Washington; and a thriving southside neighborhood in Syracuse, New York. Building highways facilitated the “white flight” to the suburbs, leaving many urban neighborhoods abandoned and underfunded, and keeping schools and workplaces segregated and unequal.
In the Minneapolis-St. Paul area, construction of Interstate 94 in the 1950s and ’60s slashed through the Rondo neighborhood, which was adjacent to downtown St. Paul and home to 4 in 5 of the city’s African American residents. Black families and businesses were displaced and the community left divided. That destruction still reverberates today in a community that saw widespread protests after the fatal shooting of Philando Castile by police during a routine traffic stop.
She also noted this:
In a 2019 research paper that examined the reasons and impact of the Freeway Revolts against urban highway construction, the researchers concluded that the American history of road development systematically shifted prosperity from inner cities to suburbs: “Freeways caused slower growth in population, income, and land values in central areas, but faster growth in outlying area. These patterns suggest that in central areas, freeway disamenity effects exceeded small access benefits.”
In other words: Cutting through communities helped spur suburban growth but destroyed urban communities.
While highways aren’t racist, the urban planning behind them certainly has been in too many instances. But one would have to read to know that, and Gaetz’s doesn’t seem to be intellectually curious. Of course, Gaetz is the same dude who says the term white privilege is racist.