Shreveport Mayor Votes to Bulldoze a Black Neighborhood to Build a Highway

Mayor Ollie Tyler sided with economic development consultants, and against the wishes of her constituents living in the Shreveport neighborhood of Allendale.

Allendale, a lower-income, largely black neighborhood in Shreveport, had plans to build a new park and housing. But regional planners, with support from the mayor, want to bulldoze a new highway right through through the neighborhood. Photo:  Allentown Strong
Allendale, a lower-income, largely black neighborhood in Shreveport, had plans to build a new park and housing. But regional planners, with support from the mayor, want to bulldoze a new highway right through through the neighborhood. Photo: Allentown Strong

It wasn’t that long ago that demolishing black neighborhoods to make way for highways was official U.S. government policy. In fact, though most cities now recognize what a horrible mistake that was, we can’t even close the chapter on that era just yet.

Last week, public officials in Shreveport, Louisiana — including Mayor Ollie Tyler — voted to proceed with a 3.5-mile connector highway that will slice right through Allendale, a predominantly black, lower-income neighborhood that abuts downtown.

Dorothy Wiley is president of Allendale strong, a group of neighborhood residents who oppose the highway project.
Dorothy Wiley is president of Allendale Strong, a group of neighborhood residents who oppose the highway project.

Economic development consultants with the firm Taimerica Management Company produced a report last year claiming the fate of the local economy is tied up in building this $700 million freeway link between I-20 and I-49. Urged on by the local chamber of commerce and transportation consultants at Providence Engineering, these arguments were enough to sway Tyler and other members of the regional planning agency to support the highway.

The vote was met with loud protests from Allendale residents who oppose the project. One of them is Dorothy Wiley, president of the neighborhood group Allendale Strong.

Wiley has lived in the neighborhood since 2006, when she evacuated New Orleans following Hurricane Katrina. Her house isn’t directly in the path of the highway, but that’s little consolation.

“I don’t want to live under or by a freeway,” she told Streetsblog. “For me, no freeway should be coming through any community.”

Despite having lost a large part of its population over the last few decades, Allendale had been planning for a 40-acre park, a botanical garden, and 150 units of new housing three years ago, the Shreveport Times reported.

Wiley and her group have been mobilizing against the highway for years.

But city leaders, including Tyler and Council Member Willie Bradford, who represents the neighborhood, sided against them. Tyler and other members of the metropolitan planning organization for northwest Louisiana voted unanimously last week for a highway alignment that cuts through the neighborhood. They said the economic arguments for the project convinced them.

SWEPCO Park in Allendale may be ruined by the freeway project. Photo: Allendale Strong
SWEPCO Park in Allendale may be ruined by the freeway project. Photo: Allendale Strong

Over at Strong Towns, Charles Marohn refuted the economic development argument earlier this year. He points out that even the consultants hired to boost the $700 million highway spur expect almost no one to use it.

The Taimerica report — which is basically a public relations document for the project — projects the number of daily trips on the highway will number about 3,600. That’s far lower than the traffic volume on many three- or four-lane urban surface streets, which get tens of thousands of daily car trips.

And yet Taimerica predicted this 3.5-mile highway segment will somehow produce 30,000 new jobs and $800 million in economic “benefits.” (Shreveport only has about 200,000 residents.)

Wiley said she and her group will continue to fight a project that maintains the racist legacy of American urban highway construction. “They always want to find a black community to bring it through,” she said. “These people been living there 50, 60 years, they don’t want to be uprooted.”

A final vote on the project is expected at the end of next year, the Shreveport Times reports.

  • SFnative74

    Can you say “Boondoggle?” This is a project that people on the left, right, and center have good reason to oppose.

  • CX

    Yes, new and more upscale development has caused displacement in many communities. Again, this is not the only option and typically is only sped up by our collective inaction towards addressing the previous decline. Instead we chase ‘economic development’ with a highway. This method is paying off less and less.

  • Roy Burrell

    It never ceases to amaze me how many people become professionals on issues they know little about. Many have no knowledge of the subject matter nor detailed history that help them formulate a more informed decision or public comments that may help solve more problems than they create. The issue is concerning the Inner City I-49 Corridor (coined by me in 2004 as the ICIC) has a long history (over 35 years) of controversy in the City of Shreveport. I hope to share it from my perspective having awaken this “Sleeping Giant” again after 30 years of silence.

    I have been involved in this ICIC controversy for nearly that whole time, at least since 1988. First as a community activist and radio talk show host, taking an anti-ICIC position, being fed false information to disseminate into the Black community by white property owner and investors who had a stake in keeping Black communities–all-black!

    Moving to Shreveport after college in 1975, I saw first hand what the I-20 roadway did to Shreveport’s “then” all Black neighborhoods–it was devastating! This was institutionally designed to keep Blacks moving into all-white neighborhood during the white flight of the late ’70s and ’80s in the Shreveport-Bossier area.

    I don’t know David, but he is correct. The Allendale portion of the Allendale /Lakeside community (the affected communities) was mostly a white/black transitional community, where white residents moved out while black residents moved in. This is quite common throughout America due to institutional economic discrimination and racism until the Fair Housing Act minimized the steering of ethnic groups to specific neighborhoods.

    There should not be anything anymore called an all-Black or White neighborhood. You should stay where you can afford housing. For economically marginalized people, there are mixed-use market development by public-private partnership to keep concentrations of poverty from developing, if done properly. Mostly now, it is about economics and not so much race, as before. That does not mean it does not still exist! But there were portions of the adjoining Lakeside community and a parts in western Allendale where housing were built for Black homeowners, even by Black builders.

    Over my 20 years of public service (City Council then State Rep.), I represented at different times both neighborhoods and felt their plight and experiences, living in an adjacent neighborhood with most of the same problems just to represent those constituents. I did not have to live under most of those adverse conditions, but did by choice, although I could financially afford to live mostly anywhere. That is why i can share this experience and history for those who care to know.

    As a community leader and public official with humility, I fought for these residents when their community started to die from public and private disinvestment. It became drug and gang infested, high crime and prostitution were rampant, and the tax base completely eroded, void of community and economic development.

    In 1998, after leaving corporate America as an retired engineer of 22 years, I dedicated myself and family to focus on community redevelopment as a future endeavor, becoming a Director for an Economic Development Non-profit (Inner City Entrepreneur (ICE) Institute and public servant. My initial focus was on the two largest so-called Black communities in Shreveport–Queensborough and Allendale/Lakeside neighborhoods.

    After three years of research and planning in these neighborhood and another three years finishing a certification at the Economic Development Institute at Oklahoma University (Norman, Okl), and then becoming a City Councilman and State Representative, I felt that I had the tools to help re-evaluate the ICIC issue again after 30 years. I wanted to see if it could jump start some community and economic opportunities that never materialized for these community residents over the past 35 years with the absence of this ICIC roadway. So i started meeting with the neighborhood residents, churches and the few remaining business in the early 2000s about re-looking at the ICIC as an economic catalyst rather than a neighborhood divider, if constructed properly.

    Historically, there had not been any new housing or business starts in any all-Black Shreveport neighborhoods since the late ’60s and early ’70s. The eastern portion of the Allendale community near downtown still consisted of mostly shotgun, slave type housing, empty grown up lots and poor infrastructure.

    Due to tan adequate housing shortage in the late ’80s, most of the slave-type shotgun houses were painted bright colors and toilets (most still had out-houses) were added under a federal housing program called “Landmark” and other programs. Needless to say, a fortune (millions) were made off the poor people from the federal investments and tax subsidies by greedy opportunists, but the was still substandard.

    In Allendale, there were a few nicer homes remaining from white family of means who previously lived there. White slum lords cash in on millions of federal taxpayers dollars that were spent and wasted on dilapidated housing stock not fit for habitation. Black home ownership was still very low or mostly nonexistent due to lack of job and wealth creation. Many of the remaining inhabitants (mostly younger) during the late ’70s, 80s and early ’90s started to move out with the Fair Housing Act, and the elderly mostly died out, leaving more crime and despair.

    By 2004, eastern Allendale was nearly 80% depleted of houses, mostly rental properties that were torn down by the City officials after the greedy slum lords used up the government subsidies, turning the properties over for demolition after condemnation.

    After encouraging completion a neighborhood property usage study for the City, nearly 7000 pieces for adjudicated property (government acquired property for nonpayment of taxes) was identified, mostly in the eastern Allendale area. I remember calling the obvious path it made, the “Yellow Brick Road”, as in the Wizard of Oz. From the terminus of I-49 South (and I-20), north to I-220 (and I-49 North, in the same path that the ICIC was proposed 30 years before, there were 70-80% less residential and business stock identified. What a coincident, I recall saying!

    It was then I saw the perfect timing and opportunity to reconsider extending the ICIC through the eastern portion of Allendale since the City of Shreveport owned most of the property for taxes. So as a new Legislator in 2003, I invited then Governor Blanco to Shreveport to look at the I-49 situation, free of the greed, political and racial strife of 30 years ago. when the roadway was stopped 2/3 finished through mostly white neighborhoods), from Bert Koun Ind. Loop (Hwy 3132) to I-20. Governor Blanco then asked, “Roy ,where is road? Why does it end here? Why are you sending vehicles 14 miles around, or 7 miles west to connect to I-49 North to Arkansas?”. I told her it was a 35 year old story she did not have time or patience to hear.

    She immediately dispatched her Secretary of Transportation Johnny Bradberry to meet with the community to discussion constructing the ICIC. Needless to say, it was reported that millions were made by certain politicians and businessmen from constructing the highway loop (3132) instead of finishing the ICIC. Go figure!

    After meeting area ministers, residents and Secretary in Alllendale in 2004 and most people were in one accord since the community was still dying. Hurricane Katrina and Ike struck in August 2005 and the severity of 3.6 mile roadway gap (to nowhere!) became an apparent problem. Shreveport became an evacuation hub, sending buses of evacuees west to Texas and Oklahoma, and north to Arkansas to avoid the raging storm. In the chaos, many buses went in the wrong direction, trying to maneuver around and through Shreveport streets, not being familiar with the local roadways. Many drivers became confused and became lost, not making it to the prescribed destinations, and causing added frustration for weary evacuees .

    The Governor heard of this fiasco and wanted ICIC section completed. She support me (and legislative delegation) to receive $3 miliion to restudy this roadway over the opposition of a few of my city and legislative colleagues, and the main local newspaper, but not most of Shreveport businesses and residents.

    After the Hurricane Katrina/Ike tragedy, Shreveport started to settle down and accept some the displaced evacuee as did many other cities and states. Governor Blanco lost her re-election because of Hurricane Katrina, but Governor Bobby Jindal who heard of the evacuation problem in Shreveport and visited, concluding the same: “Where is the rodway?”.

    Difference benevolent and community organizations started to spring up to take advantage of the billions of federal and state dollars to resettle the New Orleans and south Louisiana people. Organizations like the Fuller Center (off-shoot of Habitat for Humanity), Community Renewal, International and Samaritan Purse, to name a few, got involved with the crisis.

    The local groups like the Fuller Center and Community Renewal headed the Shreveport regional efforts by building homes and donating them to the displaced and some local people who had never had home ownership. Our City administration at this time saw a political opportunity to capitalize on the goodwill of these community organization and distressed people, and scored political points by connecting to powerful money people who supported these groups.

    So despite the fact we were restudying the same project area for the construction of the ICIC after 30 years, the then mayor decided to give much of the adjudicated properties that laid in the potential path of the ICIC roadway (identified 30 year prior) to the community groups to build housing for the people. Many people opposed the idea since there were so much other vacant property centrally located, and in outlying neighborhood that could be use for the same purpose. But they did not want to be too vocal since these people were considered homeless.

    This building initiative would become a cash-cow for some friends and political supporters, and block the ICIC roadway by starting the controversy up again, but with new Black local residents and some from the Katrina since he had control of the city-owned property. Initially, the new housing was built to the west of the potential path of the proposed ICIC roadway, where both new housing development and potential roadway could co-exist, as supporting by me as State Rep. and the previous Mayor Hightower.

    But to completely obstruct the ICIC path, the current City administration gave permission to use all property on the east side of Allendale, covering the complete project area. Also, he pushed the rebuilding of a 60 year old, rat and crime infected multifamily housing development called the “Jackson Height Housing Projects” that lie directly at the mouth of the I-20 and I-49 terminus. This location and timing was chosen so that the ICIC could not go further north without plowing through the newly build housing complex, allowing new residents to add to the protest of the ICIC roadway. Only then did he admit publicly being against the roadway after lying to the public otherwise.

    The Fuller Center and Community Renewal groups then formed a opposition group called “Loop It” to lobby to take the much needed economic impact 14 mile around the City core. Under the direction of one of current project managers and architect planners, who once bidded on the ICIC project study, but lost, the Loop it group (now called Allendale Strong) were organized. Due to his eccentricity, along with some other white activists, they vowed to stop the ICIC project from being built, sighting unsubstantiated wildlife and wetland issues, trumped up historical housing (shotgun houses) and city parks designations, etc.

    These tactics, along with their connections at the state and federal levels, forced the ICIC study and record decision to be postponed another two years, costing an additional $1million for study and construction costing from $350 million (several year ago) to approx $700 million today. The difference in costs could have rebuilt most of Shreveport’s inner city communities (including all of Allendale/Lakeside) and infrastructure, all because of a false narrative and politics surrounding the destroying of Black neighborhoods with interstate construction. How stupid is that!

    And for anyone’s information, the ideal of a major business corridor instead of a interstate was introduced by the opposing group after the community input hearings were completed, to further hold up the study. Too many games play for such an important project!

    Although, I do not necessarily agree with Mayor Ollie Tyler on some issue, and who could have be my political opponent in the 2014 mayoral race after running against an incumbent mayor in 2010 for no leadership, nor City Councilman Bradford who may be her opponent in the 2018 mayoral race I hear, I do agree that she has more “balls” to finally make a decision (political or not) than most of her male political predecessors who apparently chooses to lead from behind or not at all. I would support that style leadership over spineless and conniving politicians any day! It is all a matter of perspective!

    PS- As far as Ms. Angie Schmitt, the author of the smear on Mayor Tyler and Councilman Bradford, maybe if she would do more homework and talk to people who know and have lived the truth of this public issue before apparently taking side or slanting her article, it would be more helpful. After over 20 years in politics, I know it is easier to spear politician in today toxic and partisan environment, but thank to your recent President Trump, the media types are not fairing much better than the people they smear. Instead of sending more inflaming words, send Allendale residents some money to help with their dying Black neighborhood. No malicious intent meant!

    Roy

  • war_on_hugs

    Freeways cause less pollution than streets with stoplights because cars aren’t idling.

    That assumes traffic flow is constant, which it isn’t. The entire point of the project is to bring more cars through this area.

    The people whose homes will need to be torn down will receive payment, and probably more than what they would otherwise be able to sell the homes for.

    Payment on homes with little value because they’re in the path of a freeway. In fact, the economic impact report explicitly states that the government wants to buy parcels at a below-market rate. How is this better than an alternative where their home values go up due to actual investment in the neighborhood?

    Having a freeway entrance will make the area more attractive to many people and to businesses.

    Yes, I’m sure many businesses will be eager to site themselves in a poor neighborhood near a single interchange whose time savings – per the project’s own justification reports – will be minimal compared to other areas. Because that has worked so well for countless urban neighborhoods.

    And again, it’s not just about the benefits – it’s about whether the same or better outcomes could be achieved through less costly and disruptive means. I’m not being sarcastic when I say that you seem quite intelligent. I’m 100% sure that you could come up with many better ways to improve Shreveport’s economy if you had $700 million at your disposal.

    Again, the reason for putting the highway in that spot is to benefit the city,state, and region.

    It will benefit some – minimally – and incur enormous costs on others. Sometimes those tradeoffs are unavoidable, but in this case the benefits are so illusory that it’s actually insulting.

    Someone will be unhappy no matter where you put it, but having I-49 stop in Shreveport or having a huge dogleg around the city will be a major detriment.

    Define “major.” Read the economic impact report commissioned by the project sponsors.

    Remember, they have every incentive to make the project seem as beneficial as possible. Even then, here is their justification (pg. 5):

    The 2015 estimate of north-south through traffic is 235 vehicles/day or 86,000 vehicles/year. The Inner City Build Alternatives is a shorter route for through traffic than the Build Alternative 5. The differential is 2.56 miles. […] the aggregate savings for the first 20 years of the Inner City Build Alternatives is $45 million.

    I think we can agree that $45 million in cumulative “time savings” (itself an abstract concept that is not worth actual cash to anyone) is not worth spending hundreds of millions in public funds.

    So, the “economic impact” of this several-mile stretch of highway has to be in the order of hundreds of millions to make the project sensible. Indeed, the report claims $800 million in benefits.

    I’m skeptical. The report projects over 30,000 jobs will be created in Shreveport directly as a result of this project – a place with a current population of around 200,000. That’s absurd on its face. An area that has been steadily losing population is going to see a 10-13% increase in employment from this highway spur?

    The report is so shoddy that it doesn’t even attempt to calculate how many of those jobs would have been added anyway. It’s clear that they started from a desired conclusion and built backward from there.

    I urge you to read Strong Towns’ more thorough takedown in full.

  • war_on_hugs

    That all sounds wonderful, but there has been no serious attempt to study any of it, let alone weigh the $700 million cost of the freeway against the supposed benefits. Meanwhile, the report commissioned to justify the project only predicts 256 additional vehicles/day. There are side streets with more traffic than that in cities a fraction of Shreveport’s size. They could build the freeway through a less populated area and only add about 2 minutes/car of travel time at most.

    I have a higher standard for massive public investments – that will contribute to a neighborhood’s destruction – than “sightseers might want to stop by.” That’s not the basis for a healthy economy.

  • Gail Boyd Doran

    I had the opportunity to drive through this area area multiple times this summer while visiting my daughter. I grew up and lived many years in Broadmoor and, not surprisingly, only on rare occasion passed through this area. Hearing that this area is being disregarded as being less valuable than a bunch of concrete to allow people to get to and fro faster makes me very sad as it is a beautiful area with the possibility for economic and social revival. Any money designated to build a freeway through here ought to be used to help with restoration of properties and improvements which enhance the lives of the people who live there.

  • Miles Bader

    A good highway system is essential for a city to grow and function.

    No, it is not.

ALSO ON STREETSBLOG

Wiki Wednesday: Better Stimulus Through Highway Removal

|
We know plenty of states want to use stimulus funds to expand highway capacity, but how many are looking to jolt their economies with a much-needed freeway teardown? So far as we can tell, the answer is none. Perhaps they should reconsider and take a page from this week’s StreetsWiki entry on highway removal: Streetfilms […]

12 Freeways to Watch (‘Cause They Might Be Gone Soon)

|
If you make your home on the Louisiana coastline, upstate New York or the mountains of the Pacific Northwest, chances are you live near a highway that really has it coming. It’s big. It’s ugly. It goes right through city neighborhoods. And it just might be coming down soon. Last week the Congress for New […]

Birmingham to Widen Downtown Highway While Other Cities Tear ‘Em Down

|
Downtown freeways are unmitigated disasters for cities. They ruin the development potential of central city neighborhoods and create dead zones that divide downtown areas. That’s why Milwaukee, San Francisco, New Orleans, Niagara Falls, Oklahoma City, New Haven and Syracuse have either torn them down or are seriously considering it. But Birmingham, Alabama, is on track to […]