Stent (or Dagger?) in the Heart of Town: Urban Freeways in Syracuse, 1944–1967


This is a case study of decision making on urban freeways in American cities using Syracuse, New York. Although many transportation decisions have affected this central New York city, among the most important are those surrounding the state and interstate highways through Syracuse (New York State Thruway and Interstates 81 and 690). The author traces important steps and events in the city's decisions to allow major highways to traverse the city center, decisions that had important effects on patterns of urban formation, growth, and decline. The case is another illustration of the importance of urban freeways in city history. Information sources are historical archives and secondary data. The case suggests that Syracuse falls into a class of cities whose fates are dependent to a great extent on major forces linked to the transportation sector but whose urban infrastructure decisions and growth patterns are not alike. These patterns are related to a set of interacting phenomena - from timing of transportation decisions within an environment of changing state and federal funding opportunities and environmental law to governmental philosophy. Central to the city outcome was the convergence, before and relatively early in the evolution of environmental and preservation law and policy, of the city planning goals of "slum clearance" and redevelopment (later, urban renewal), on the one hand, and the transportation goals of eliminating congestion and improving vehicle mobility, on the other. Also important was the availability of nonlocal funding to a fiscally conservative city administration, one that was also deferential, often legally obligated to be, to state highway planning directions.

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