Ron DeSantis ignores urbanism’s racist history

Florida is among many states in which black neighborhoods have been destroyed by highway construction.

Republican Florida Governor Ron DeSantis attacking the recently passed Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act, told reporters Tuesday that he did not see how freeways and other roads could be racially discriminatory. If DeSantis read the history of his state and others, he would come across many examples of highway construction being used to destroy black and Latino communities.

The infrastructure legislation, which was signed signed into law by President Joe Biden, contains provisions designed to specifically address the historic assaults and inequalities contained in past infrastructure projects.

“They say highways are racially discriminatory, I don’t know how a highway can be that,” DeSantis said. “It’s the wake-up-ification of federal politics when you see this stuff.”

“I woke up” became the catch-all term of the right for efforts to undo previously discriminatory policies as well as a host of other ideas conservatives dislike.

In one example from DeSantis State, a black business district that flourished in a Tampa neighborhood dubbed “the scrub“between the 1910s and the 1960s was destroyed by the planning and construction of the I-275 freeway.

A March 2021 report from the Metropolitan Planning Organization for the Tampa area details the scale of the operation and the racist policies that determined the location of the new highway.

Referring to the Scrub, the 1941 plans mentioned the need to “do much to clear a devastated slum north of Cass Street on both sides of Central.”

A zoning plan from the following year stated, “There are several other smaller areas, now occupied by colored people which should be eliminated and moved to other areas.” A 1945 plan called the Tampa Black Community Center “a cancerous infection ripe for major surgery to turn it into something economically sound and civically worthwhile.” The report also called the region an “unnecessary and excessive burden of expense on taxpayers”.

Rodney Kite-Powell, director of the Tampa Bay History Center’s Touchton Map Library, Recount Tampa Bay Fox 13 station in November:

It’s hard to look at a map of Tampa before the freeway and know what was there – Central Avenue which was a very thriving African American business district dating from the 1910s through the 1960s and seeing the Scrub and even an affluent neighborhood along Mar Avenue and then knowing the interchange of I-4 and 275 is literally on top of that. It’s hard to see this and not assume that race played a role in deciding these roads to go where they did.

Kite-Powell said the developments are splitting neighborhoods in two in an “absolutely devastating” way.

Road placement resulting from a racially discriminatory policy also affected Overtown, just outside Miami, displacing black residents in the 1960s.

Across the United States, racist policies have played a role in the placement of highways that have negatively impacted black and Latino communities.

Fact Check Republican reactions to Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg’s acknowledgment of racism in highway planning in April 2021, PolitiFact Noted“City after city, Interstate-era freeways and before caused black neighborhoods to be demolished or fragmented – due, historians say, to a combination of racism, lower acquisition costs for real estate, and weaker political muscle to oppose the projects.”

The Law on Investment in Infrastructure and Employment will provide funding to state and local governments to demolish highways and rebuild streets and other infrastructure such as parks that were destroyed by previous construction.

The law also finances the Reconnecting Communities pilot program, which allocates resources to study the impact of removing or upgrading highways that passed through black communities.

DeSantis opposed the infrastructure bill, mock as “pork barrel expenses”. Florida Republican Senators Marco Rubio and Rick Scott voted against, as did Florida Republicans in the House.

Despite Republican opposition, Florida will receive more than $19 billion in infrastructure funding under the act, including $13.1 billion for road construction projects.

Published with permission of the American Independent Foundation.