Thanks to the UA Little Rock History Department for pointing me to graduate student Acadia Roher’s article on the history of Little Rock’s westward development, white flight and the impact of freeway construction .
The past is not past, of course. Roher’s discussion is pertinent as some city leaders (but not all) join hands with the state freeway builders to widen the Interstate 30 concrete ditch through downtown for no other reason than to speed flight to suburban homes (and incidentally improve river navigation with a new bride).
Ask Mayor Frank Scott Jr. the next time you see him to enunciate a benefit to the city of Little Rock from this project. You need only read the lawsuit aimed at stopping the project to see the ills — further neighborhood degradation, air and water pollution, induced traffic snarls elsewhere, disruption of the city traffic grid, unfunded costs on the city, encouragement of more suburban development with no economic benefits for Little Rock.
Roher’s article retells familiar history — Park Plaza as the first blow in westward development, residential blockbusting, the demise of the black business district, the damage done by the Mills Freeway in dividing the city, sprawl. Good photos from the archives, too.
The article concludes:
The massive expansion of the city that began during the urban renewal era stressed city services and exacerbated divisions in the social fabric. According to [Ben] Johnson, “over the final forty years of the century, the city’s population density dropped from 4500 persons per square mile to fifteen hundred. In 1998 the Sierra Club concluded that Little Rock suffered from one of the worst cases of urban sprawl among small cities in the nation.” With Black residents pushed east, white residents filling the western suburbs, a hollowed-out city center, and intimidating highways dividing neighborhoods, residential segregation was fully in place by 1975.
Again. Ask the mayor why doing more of the same with a 10-lane freeway and acres more concrete is good for Little Rock.
*see full story by Arkansas Times