Reconnecting After The Highways Get Disconnected

This week CityLab mentioned that the US Senate was working on funding a program to reclaim areas of communities displaced/demolished/bifurcated by highway projects as those roads are decommissioned.

As Streetsblog reported on Jan. 11, the Economic Justice Act, a spending package worth over $435 billion, includes a $10 billion pilot program that would provide funds for communities to examine transit infrastructure that has divided them along racial and economic lines and potentially alter or remove them. It would also help pay for plans to redevelop reclaimed land. The program contains specific language requiring projects funded through it prioritize equity and avoid displacement. It also provides grants meant to facilitate community engagement and participation as well as construction.

I immediately recognized that there was a sizeable opportunity for arts organizations to be involved, if not lead, the facilitation of community engagement around these efforts. I had written about 500 Plates, a project that literally brought people from every neighborhood in Akron, OH to a long table down the center of the highway in question to discuss what should happen after the highway was permanently closed to traffic.

Of course, I also thought about Springboard for the Arts’ Irrigate program which prepared 600 local artists to go out along the route of a new light-rail line in an attempt to mitigate the negative impact the construction might have on the residents and businesses.

I live in a community where the width of the interstate is expanding, increasing the displacement that occurred in the 1960s & 70s and we are looking into ways to employ creative expression to address the ongoing conversation about blight. So there are opportunities to spark conversation and action on both ends of the spectrum. However, it sounds like there may be actual funding available to conduct conversations about reclamation and repurposing.

About Joe Patti

I have been writing Butts in the Seats (BitS) on topics of arts and cultural administration since 2004 (yikes!). Given the ever evolving concerns facing the sector, I have yet to exhaust the available subject matter. In addition to BitS, I am a founding contributor to the ArtsHacker ( website where I focus on topics related to boards, law, governance, policy and practice.

I am also an evangelist for the effort to Build Public Will For Arts and Culture being helmed by Arts Midwest and the Metropolitan Group. (

I am currently the Director of the Grand Opera House in Macon, GA.

Among the things I am most proud are having produced an opera in the Hawaiian language and a dance drama about Hawaii's snow goddess Poli'ahu while working as a Theater Manager in Hawaii. Though there are many more highlights than there is space here to list.


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