The one thing that cities can do to help 99% that will also reduce traffic, improve public transport, increase housing and reduce pollution without raising taxes. But will the 1% let us?
Rarely in life is there a silver bullet, the one small action that solves many problems, the one thing that causes so much damage that if you undo it, you create so many benefits because so much damage was caused by that thing. But that is the reality. Because while the cause of San Diego and other large modern cities housing shortage, traffic, congestion, pollution, poor public transport is caused by behavior and thoughts of racism, it’s one physical manifestation is freeways. Destroying the freeway will require facing our racism but will fix so many problems.
In San Diego, prior to 1950, downtown was a vibrant living neighborhood just as it was in most American cities. But With the end of school segregation and the beginning of school busing, San Diego was physically transformed. While the jobs were still in Downtown, the majority of white affluent people moved to the outskirts, outside of proper San Diego where black kids bussing were not going to be a threat to their white innocent children. It was this that lead to an increase in the population of Encinitas from 5,000 people in the 1960ies to over 80,000 people in the 1980ies. Cities like Encinitas prevented the movement of brown and black people into the city by refusing to build any multi-person housing, which according to a study, has less than 1% chance of happening by chance. In order to provide a quick way for these affluent white people to get in and out of Downtown, freeways were built into the city, which required the destructions of hundreds of primarily black and brown homes, destroying the city by putting a massive ugly impassable vein of traffic through it.
This action had a profound effect on everything we can think of. No longer was a trolley needed to take white people from North Park and University Heights to Downtown, no longer were other public transportation needed. Instead, more houses were destroyed to make way for parking lots for the white people who would drive in the city. More highrises were built to condense the number of white-collar workers, more parking was built and the black communities were pushed further and more ignored and more policed.
With the lack of white families and white flight, taxes in San Diego tanked, school funding plunged, larger inequalities were created. The housing had to be built further and further away from San Diego and because of racist laws that restricted multi-unit housing, the housing took up more space, encroaching more and more into wildlife areas, resulting in more and more fires. San Diego had relatively few fires prior to 1980. More fires happened in San Digeo between 2000 and 2020 than in the 100 years prior.
The lack of ability to build up and the fact that everything else was built up squeezed the poor communities, as the pricing only increased and only the wealthy could afford new homes that were built further and further. Wealthy catered tax-laws that ensured low taxes on homes reduced liquidity as poor people were not able to afford new homes and home payments, and so their homes stayed off the market, further increasing prices, making homes an investment vehicle versus what it was seen in the 1950ies: a human right for shelter.
As more people moved in to San Diego thanks to UCSD lead tech market, more homes were built on the outskirts, massive buildings along with the I-15 and a new HW-56 transformed environment. The type of Frank Lloyd Wright building practices that can be seen in Helix Mountain, where homes dot the hills following nature were replaced by new practices to increase mini-mansion units by flattening hills, destroying ecosystems pushing multiple endemic species into extinction.
These new homes required cars. 1950 San Diego didn’t need cars when most people lived near the city with a good public transportation system. When a city sprawled, every member of the home now needed a car. Parents tired from driving through their suburban jungle with kids to their activities were happy to buy more cars and pass on the cars to their kids at 18, then 17 then 16 and soon 15 and a half. This lead to a massive uptick in teenage deaths in cars. Something unimagined 40 years ago, when kids lived near each other and didn’t need to drive everywhere on long fast roads to and from parties.
The parents spent hours in traffic now, barely seeing their kids or spouses. The infidelity opportunities increased as they spent more time with co-workers who also spent little time with their families, which lead to more unhappy families with teenagers who felt unloved, and depressed and turned to drugs and more and more committed suicides as they now bounced from one divorced spouse to another, sometimes on opposite sides of the country.
The added traffic required wider freeways but now we know that the particulates from cars cause alzheimers, dimentia, asthma, strokes and heart attacks not to mention the added effect of lack of movement as no one walks anymore increased obesity. The effect on our medical system was profound as the costs of healthcare skyrocketed creating a massive industry dotting the San Diego landscape.
The distributed urban sprawl requires more heating and air conditioning when homes are not multi-unit the way they are in old cities like Boston and New York. The added energy including the energy needed to pump water from hundreds of miles away increased use of fossil fuel on top of what we already used on all the cars we needed to live far from Downtown, adding to the carbon budget. It is no surprise that UCSD researchers noticed the uptick in 1970 and over the years the production only increased more and more. The living of far from friends and family that this distributed housing system created allowed us to have large homes but increased isolation. This drove up addictions to substances, alcohol and shopping. Shopping addiction made a massive uptick in production of goods and waste where people now shopped for clothes every season and the costs of production of these goods were moved to China and those goods now had to be transported across the ocean, increasing CO2 output to massive levels, pushing China into forefront of CO2 production as it had to increase number of powerplants and factories to keep up with our shopping addictions.
It’s crazy to imagine, that only 30 years passed since the white reaction to Brown vs Board for climate change to hit us, with massive fires claiming lives and homes and swaths of forests and chapparal and causing the collapse of cliffs and flooding due to sea-level rise and harsher storms. So many problems, caused by one small bad seed: racism. So how do we solve it? We take the one thing that the seed created: the freeway.
Taking away the freeway from downtown the way Portland did, we open up acres and acres for new housing, relieving the massive pressure of housing costs on poor San Diegans that have pushed thousands into homelessness. By filling up the area with cars that cost money due to repairs and upkeep with taxpayers, we have more money to fix other roads and have better schools.
Not having a freeway cutting through downtown means that people who want to come to downtown for work or play will now have to take public transport. This will reduce emissions in a profound way while increasing the funds that go into public transport, allowing us to increase the frequency of the public transport and its reach, making it more convenient and cheaper to use and thus making it accessible to more people and leading to more ridership, fewer cars and less emissions.
No freeway close to homes in Old Town, Mission Hills, Little Italy and downtown will massively reduce the healthcare costs of associated diseases like Alzheimer's, asthma, strokes, heart attacks and even developmental diseases like ADHD and even autism. People coming to downtown and walking around downtown instead of circling for parking and walking less will lead to a more fit city with less diabetes and obesity.
Of course, less cars coming into downtown will also mean less need for parking lots which will no longer be empty spots reserved for giant pieces of metal and plastic but can be converted into places for living and play and parks.
Making sure that homes are multi-unit living will condense living space but also decrease materials needed for building and energy required for heating and cooling, reducing the Carbon footprint. Making sure that work is nearby and good public transport to beaches and other fun places will mean that people don’t have to have a car if they live in Downtown, further decreasing our carbon footprint.
It is hard to quantify the damage we have done to our city, our society, our families through fear of people who have darker skin than us. We preferred to sit in traffic, overpay for homes, be far from family, spend more money on gas and cars, deal with isolation and loneliness, wild fire dangers, traffic accidents, and disease all so that our white child does not sit next to a black child in a classroom.
It is time to end insanity of prejudice. We can take away the relic of our racist past, starting with the 4 miles of the five freeway from Little Italy to East Village. It will take some thinking on part of Cal Trans to figure things out, but adding public transport will reduce the number of cars traveling, the traffic that has to go to Mexico can go via 805 and 15 and the amount of added benefits of health, housing, and environmental outweigh the costs. This would benefit 99% of all San Diego residents. Some will oppose it, some will spend a lot of money making arguments to oppose it, but all will benefit.
It is rare when we have a chance to use a magic silver bullet like this, let’s not let our racist past define our