We are all interconnected: Rethinking Highways

By Emma Ishida


Prompt: Write about your favorite session. What were the major points/content covered? What were your takeaways? This could also be highlighting cool work happening in a different part of the country. 

The talk and the tour led by the folks at Rethink35 stuck with me. They talked about their current work in fighting the expansion of I-35 through Austin, and we walked to the highway to just feel the noise pollution, air pollution, and poor usage of public space, and an expansion would displace approximately 1000 residents. We talked about other options to expand the highway, like putting it underground or redirecting the highway that goes through Austin and making that stretch a boulevard– decrease in traffic, and increase in pedestrian safety. 

There were so many parallels in this talk and tour to my work! My work is in Boston Chinatown, and our work exists largely because of the legacy of redlining and disinvestment from Chinatown that led to the I-95 being built straight through Chinatown. It is one of the main reasons for the housing crisis and the overlapping environmental issues that come with a highway being built through a neighborhood. 

One potential project is through the Reconnecting Communities grant through the Department of Transportation which is a federal grant meant to reconnect communities that were divided because of urban renewal. There will hopefully be a project specifically in Boston Chinatown of building more space by capping the highway and making a park or affordable housing over the highway. 

Learning about the freeway fighters’ work is very hopeful and energizing. It reminded me that folks are doing this anti-highway work across the country, and each group is networked with each other– for example, Rethink35 is connected to the Oklahoma freeway fighters, who recently had a win in stopping the Oklahoma turnpike. It also expanded my understanding of highways and urban renewal has impacted different regions in the US. I’m so grateful I was able to take the time and space away from my own work in Boston Chinatown to see the bigger picture of highway and environmental justice work. I hope to continue to follow Rethink35 and the broader anti-highway movement in their collective organizing and future wins.