Reclaim Humboldt Parkway Conversation

(above historical image  of what Humboldt Park Looked Like before construction of highway from WNY Heritage Press)

By Bradley J. Bethel Jr.

The Route 33 and 198 Expressways in Buffalo have recently been designated by Congress for New Urbanism’s nationwide annual survey of Freeways Without Futures. Other expressways included were Interstate 980 from Oakland CA, Interstate 81 from Syracuse NY, and Interstate 70 of Denver CO.

Cities across America have awakened to the racial hypocrisy behind urban expressways.  They specifically target low-income neighborhoods, emerging from segregationist housing practices of the 1930’s. Today, Black neighborhoods inherited from former German, Polish, and Italian enclaves continue footing the bill for the original “White flight” to the suburbs from the 1950’s. With Route 33’s walls deteriorating, and Route 198’s impediment upon visitors of Delaware Park, both expressways are obsolete structures highlighting the importance of the Congress for New Urbanism’s survey.

The survey continues the conversation around Buffalo about a concurrent discrepancy between the revival of Humboldt Parkway, the reconfiguration of Scajaquada, and the future of Routes 33 and 198. It begs the question, “how do we get around the city with altered expressways?”

The bitter reality behind this question is that it easily ignores how the main city streets bring drivers to and from the same destinations throughout the city. The question evokes the political and cultural cannibalism that orchestrated the city’s decline, and now threatens the city’s renaissance. Much like the expressways themselves, the question ultimately manipulates the city against itself.

Buffalonians expressed pride in Humboldt Parkway, and mourned its loss. The former boulevard, and its proposed revival promote the importance of neighborhood ownership. Ownership establishes identity. If we as neighbors fail to take ownership of our neighborhoods, the identity of the Fruit Belt, Hamlin Park, Parkside, and Black Rock will continue to be compromised by special interests from Amherst, Cheektowaga, and Hamburg.

Once we re-establish our identity, the question then should be, “how can we improve city neighborhoods directly impacted by Routes 33 and 198?”

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( Bradley J. Bethel Jr. is the   ROCC Research Associate)