Building a Better Houston: Highways, Neighborhoods, and Infrastructural Citizenship in the 1970s

From Journal of Urban History

This article examines how residents from two disparate, central Houston, Texas, neighborhoods—the white and wealthy Courtlandt Place and the predominately black, mostly lower-class Third Ward—responded to disruptive physical changes caused by highway building in the 1960s and 1970s.  To resist highway construction and its aftereffects, residents from both communities embraced a rhetoric and set of actions that turned their homes and streets into political tools. Initial protests influenced dozens more, as a wide variety of Americans fought for influence over the infrastructural future of their cities

The fights around infrastructure cannot be isolated from broader social and political movements, as they are an inescapable part of them. Understanding how residents viewed the systems, resisted or embraced their construction, and worked their presence into their political and social lives is essential to gaining a better idea of how American cities function today and in the past . While imbalances in racial and economic power shaped the outcomes of these two fights, the common language and action residents found in ‘infrastructural citizenship’ allowed them to protect their visions of the city and to participate in the planning of its future.

Abstract

This article examines how residents from two disparate, central Houston, Texas, neighborhoods—the white and wealthy Courtlandt Place and the predominately black, mostly lower-class Third Ward—responded to disruptive physical changes caused by highway building in the 1960s and 1970s. To resist highway construction and its aftereffects, residents from both communities embraced a rhetoric and set of actions that turned their homes and streets into political tools. By transforming elements of the built environment from inert materials into arenas in which they could claim and assert political power, the Houstonians examined here crafted a shared set of actions this article frames as expressions of “infrastructural citizenship.” While imbalances in racial and economic power shaped the outcomes of these two fights, the common language and action residents found in infrastructural citizenship allowed them to protect their visions of the city and to participate in the planning of its future.

Read the article for free

Article details
Kyle Shelton
Building a Better Houston: Highways, Neighborhoods, and Infrastructural Citizenship in the 1970s
Journal of Urban History 0096144215611095, first published on October 15, 2015 doi:10.1177/0096144215611095

 

 

     
This entry was posted in SAGE Insight, Urban Studies. Bookmark the permalink.

Leave a Reply