In America, the highways and public spaces that shape our cities were often intentionally built at the expense of minority citizens. When the “structural” racist, urban planner Robert Moses began building projects in New York during the 1920s, he bulldozed Black and Latino homes to make way for parks and built highways through the middle of minority neighborhoods.
Completed in 1972, the 6.5-mile Cross Bronx Expressway bisects the borough east to west, carrying 300 diesel trucks every hour, on average. The resulting air and noise pollution contribute to a bevy of health problems, from asthma to COVID-19, for the 220,000 people who live near the highway, most of whom are Black and Brown.
An unapologetic racist and segregationist, Moses even ordered his engineers to build the bridges low over the Southern State Parkway connecting New York City to Jones Beach in Long Island. This kept city buses (which would likely be carrying poor Black & Brown people) from passing underneath. This and many more of Moses’ programs and designs influenced a generation of engineers, architects, and urban planners nationwide.
In Robert A. Caro’s 1974 biography of Robert Moses, “The Power Broker,” he describes Moses as, “the most racist human being I had ever encountered.” An example of the effect Moses’ projects have had on the residents of NYC: The Cross Bronx Expressway is just one major source of air pollution linked to high rates of asthma in nearby communities of color.