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The Forgotten History of L.A.'s Failed Freeway Revolt

The story of Boyle Heights reminds us that urban highway teardowns don't always end in victory.
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Urbanists love to celebrate the victorious campaigns that have been waged against city highways over the years. From the successful crusades against the Lower Manhattan Expressway in New York and Inner Belt in Boston and Cambridge decades ago, to those against the Embarcadero Freeway in San Francisco and Park East Freeway in Milwaukee more recently—the glory gets told and retold, often to good purpose. As other cities consider similar efforts, the tales can both inspire and instruct.

But the history of urban highway revolt is far more checkered than this highlight reel suggests. As UCLA historian Eric Avila reminds us, in a recent issue of the Journal of Urban History, plenty of anti-freeway crusades have failed over the years, leaving residents to live in the shadows of the roads they never wanted. Such stories are often "invisible" to us, he writes, because the people living in these areas too often lack a political or mainstream cultural voice: