Route 66 built communities. The interstate system destroyed them again

An aerial view of Seligman, Arizona, looking west, dated March 12, 1971. Route 66 bisects the town. Image: James R. Powell Route 66 Collection/Newberry Library.

In his 1939 novel “The Grapes of Wrath,” John Steinbeck dubbed Route 66 “The Mother Road.” But the 2,448 mile-long highway that once wound from Chicago, Illinois, to Santa Monica, California, may soon have a new title: National Historic Trail.

On 5 June, the U.S. House of Representatives passed a bill to amend the National Trails System Act in order to officially designate Route 66 a National Historic Trail. Assuming the Senate takes up the legislation, Route 66 will join other federal historic trails – such as the California and Oregon Trails – recognised as migration routes historically significant to the development of the nation.

But the legislation does more than simply denote official commemoration. It provides federal oversight and management through the National Park Service, which includes the establishment of distinctive marking and signage along the trail. It also awards federal funds for preservation, development and promotion.

I’ve researched how Route 66 has facilitated human migration and how this movement influenced local communities and the natural environment.

Migration and tourism shaped towns along Route 66 even before the road was officially established in 1926. But the Interstate Highway System decimated many of these communities when it circumvented Route 66 in the late 1970s and early 1980s.

Today, many sections of Route 66 are completely gone. Some sections are accessible only by foot and have crumbled into oblivion.

With this new legislation, the historic towns that once thrived along these now-little used sections of Route 66 could experience a revival.


A grassroots movement spurs national highways

It is difficult to imagine today, but a little over a century ago the United States lacked a national road network. Cross-country travel happened via train. Cities and towns on the rail lines had streets, of course. But most simply ended at the edge of town.

In the 1880s, farmers and bicycle enthusiasts started the Good Roads Movement in order to grade and pave dirt roads and trails with gravel and water. This made carting produce to town easier and encouraged bicycle tourism from the city to the countryside.

By the 1910s, touring the countryside in automobiles had become popular, and auto-tourism replaced bicycle tourism. The local roads were too shoddily made to withstand nonstop auto and truck traffic, so the Good Roads Movement – now dominated by grassroots automobile activists – lobbied legislators around the country for federal funding for concrete or bituminous paved roads. In response, Congress passed the 1921 Federal Highway Act, which dramatically expanded federal funding for highway construction and maintenance and created the first federally numbered highway system.

These new federal highways, marked by numbers, were built on top of the existing local roads and touring routes. One such route ran from Chicago to Los Angeles and included parts of the former Lone Star Trail, King of Trails, Ozark Trail and National Old Trails auto-touring routes.

In 1926, highway officials gave this highway a number: 66.

Towns profit off travel

For towns situated along Route 66, the ensuing increase in automobile and truck traffic created a transportation service economy. Local entrepreneurs built gas stations, repair shops, restaurants and motels to serve road-trippers, tourists and truckers.

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A postcard from the 1930s depicts the last stop on Route 66, Santa Monica, California. Image: James R. Powell Route 66 Collection/Newberry Library.

Meanwhile, waves of mass migration also took place along Route 66. In the 1930s, Plains states farmers fled the Dust Bowl for California. During World War II, millions of Americans moved west to either serve in the military or work in wartime industries along the coast. Then, after the war, Americans flocked to the Sunbelt’s blossoming suburbs.

Through it all, these communities located along Route 66 prospered, including two railroad towns in northern Arizona that I’ve focused on in my research: Seligman and Peach Springs.

Both communities were born as railroad towns in the 1880s, and tourism was important to these communities from the start.

Seligman, named after railroad financier Jesse Seligman, was built by a switchyard.

Peach Springs, which gets its name from a water spring nearby, was built as a watering station for steam locomotives. The railroad also constructed train facilities, housing for railroad workers, a depot and a hotel at each stop.

Within a few years, both towns had multiple businesses catering to travelers and railroad workers. Peach Springs attracted tourism dollars by promoting itself as the first gateway to the Grand Canyon.

But in 1901, Peach Springs weathered its first economic decline when a new spur line at Williams, Arizona, diverted tourists directly to the canyon and newly constructed Grand Canyon Village.

Salvation was delivered via Route 66. Like many other towns along Route 66, Seligman and Peach Springs built motels, diners and gas stations, many of which used elaborate props and neon signs to attract passersby.

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A postcard from the Copper Cart Restaurant in Seligman, Arizona, around 1960. Many businesses along Route 66 featured unique signage to attract travelers. The Copper Cart employed signs shaped like mine carts on the roadside, parking lot and on the chimney, which also used lots of neon and flashing light bulbs. Image: James R. Powell Route 66 Collection/Newberry Library.

Interstate highways bring decline

Then business suddenly came to a stop.

By the mid-1950s, the original federal highways were overwhelmed. Accidents and gridlock soared. In July 1954, President Dwight D. Eisenhower proposed a massive upgrade to the nation’s highways. Two years later, the Federal-Aid Highway Act of 1956 was passed, launching the interstate highway era.

The new interstate highways didn’t bypass every town along Route 66, but it did change all of them. The interstate system’s limited access design prescribed controlled entry and exit points for cars. Businesses clustered near freeway exits, and downtowns foundered.

However, changes for Seligman and Peach Springs were particularly drastic. Both are located on a section of Route 66 that was completely bypassed by the interstate system. Although it’s common to think of economic decline as a gradual process, it is difficult to overstate how quickly the new interstate affected businesses along the bypassed section of Route 66.

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A 1930s postcard view of Route 66 traveling east through the center of Peach Springs, Arizona. Image: James R. Powell Route 66 Collection/Newberry Library.

The Seligman-Peach Springs bypass section of I-40 opened to traffic after a ribbon-cutting ceremony on 22 September 1978. Businesses that had been busy the day prior went hours without a customer. That night, for the first time in decades, motels in Peach Springs and Seligman sat empty.

Even though both towns suffered steep economic decline after being bypassed by the interstate, one eventually ended up faring better than the other.


A tale of two towns

Due to the efforts of local business owners, Seligman rebranded itself around Route 66 tourism. Local residents convinced the state of Arizona to designate the portion of Route 66 through their town a historic highway, and they rebuilt their economy around Route 66 nostalgia tourism.

Many other communities along the route did the same. Santa Monica, California, revitalised the historic Santa Monica Pier – the old terminus of Route 66 – into a vibrant shopping, restaurant and amusement park. Winslow, Arizona, capitalised on both Route 66 and rock music fame to revitalise their downtown around the intersection of North Kinsley Avenue and Route 66. It was on that downtown corner where folk-rock star Jackson Browne had car trouble and found himself “standing on the corner in Winslow, Arizona.”

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Some towns, like Winslow, Arizona – pictured here in a postcard from the 1950s – were able to capitalise on Route 66 nostalgia. Image: James R. Powell Route 66 Collection/Newberry Library.

But other towns, either due to fewer resources or the lack of an organised local business effort, continued to struggle. Peach Springs falls into this camp.

Thirty-two active businesses operated in Peach Springs before the bypass in 1978. Only two businesses are present in the town today. Although you can still take Route 66 through Peach Springs, travelers and residents have to buy gas in Seligman. The only remaining businesses are a grocery store and a motel.

This disparity in local resources is what makes the amendment to the National Trails Act so important. By permanently designating Route 66 a historic trail, local communities and regional and national organisations can now draw from federal coffers to fund historic preservation, development and promotion.

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This former Standard Oil station went out of business after the construction of the I-40 bypass. Designation of Route 66 as a National Historic Trail would provide resources to restore it as a historic place. Image: Daniel Milowski/author provided.

An immediate benefit will be prominent uniform trail signage along the length of Route 66 alerting tourists to the trail’s presence and providing highway directional signage on how to get to it. The trail would also be listed on the National Park Service website and other Park Service promotional materials.

Finally, it would provide a stable source of funding for preservation and promotion efforts along the trail.

Through this federal legislation, local communities along Route 66 – once negatively affected by earlier federal interstate legislation – will have an opportunity to rebuild, rebrand and reclaim their heritage along this historic road.

Daniel Milowski, Ph.D. Student in History, Arizona State University.

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.

 
 
 
 

Green roofs improve cities – so why don’t all buildings have them?

The green roof at the Kennedy Centre, Washington DC. Image: Getty.

Rooftops covered with grass, vegetable gardens and lush foliage are now a common sight in many cities around the world. More and more private companies and city authorities are investing in green roofs, drawn to their wide-ranging benefits which include savings on energy costs, mitigating the risk from floods, creating habitats for urban wildlife, tackling air pollution and urban heat and even producing food.

A recent report in the UK suggested that the green roof market there is expanding at a rate of 17 per cent each year. The world’s largest rooftop farm will open in Paris in 2020, superseding similar schemes in New York City and Chicago. Stuttgart, in Germany, is thought of as “the green roof capital of Europe”, while Singapore is even installing green roofs on buses.

These increasingly radical urban designs can help cities adapt to the monumental challenges they face, such as access to resources and a lack of green space due to development. But buy-in from city authorities, businesses and other institutions is crucial to ensuring their success – as is research investigating different options to suit the variety of rooftop spaces found in cities.

A growing trend

The UK is relatively new to developing green roofs, and governments and institutions are playing a major role in spreading the practice. London is home to much of the UK’s green roof market, mainly due to forward-thinking policies such as the 2008 London Plan, which paved the way to more than double the area of green roofs in the capital.

Although London has led the way, there are now “living labs” at the Universities of Sheffield and Salford which are helping to establish the precedent elsewhere. The IGNITION project – led by the Greater Manchester Combined Authority – involves the development of a living lab at the University of Salford, with the aim of uncovering ways to convince developers and investors to adopt green roofs.

Ongoing research is showcasing how green roofs can integrate with living walls and sustainable drainage systems on the ground, such as street trees, to better manage water and make the built environment more sustainable.

Research is also demonstrating the social value of green roofs. Doctors are increasingly prescribing time spent gardening outdoors for patients dealiong with anxiety and depression. And research has found that access to even the most basic green spaces can provide a better quality of life for dementia sufferers and help prevent obesity.

An edible roof at Fenway Park, stadium of the Boston Red Sox. Image: Michael Hardman/author provided.

In North America, green roofs have become mainstream, with a wide array of expansive, accessible and food-producing roofs installed in buildings. Again, city leaders and authorities have helped push the movement forward – only recently, San Francisco created a policy requiring new buildings to have green roofs. Toronto has policies dating from the 1990s, encouraging the development of urban farms on rooftops.

These countries also benefit from having newer buildings, which make it easier to install green roofs. Being able to store and distribute water right across the rooftop is crucial to maintaining the plants on any green roof – especially on “edible roofs” which farm fruit and vegetables. And it’s much easier to create this capacity in newer buildings, which can typically hold greater weight, than retro-fit old ones. Having a stronger roof also makes it easier to grow a greater variety of plants, since the soil can be deeper.


The new normal?

For green roofs to become the norm for new developments, there needs to be buy-in from public authorities and private actors. Those responsible for maintaining buildings may have to acquire new skills, such as landscaping, and in some cases volunteers may be needed to help out. Other considerations include installing drainage paths, meeting health and safety requirements and perhaps allowing access for the public, as well as planning restrictions and disruption from regular ativities in and around the buildings during installation.

To convince investors and developers that installing green roofs is worthwhile, economic arguments are still the most important. The term “natural capital” has been developed to explain the economic value of nature; for example, measuring the money saved by installing natural solutions to protect against flood damage, adapt to climate change or help people lead healthier and happier lives.

As the expertise about green roofs grows, official standards have been developed to ensure that they are designed, built and maintained properly, and function well. Improvements in the science and technology underpinning green roof development have also led to new variations on the concept.

For example, “blue roofs” increase the capacity of buildings to hold water over longer periods of time, rather than drain away quickly – crucial in times of heavier rainfall. There are also combinations of green roofs with solar panels, and “brown roofs” which are wilder in nature and maximise biodiversity.

If the trend continues, it could create new jobs and a more vibrant and sustainable local food economy – alongside many other benefits. There are still barriers to overcome, but the evidence so far indicates that green roofs have the potential to transform cities and help them function sustainably long into the future. The success stories need to be studied and replicated elsewhere, to make green, blue, brown and food-producing roofs the norm in cities around the world.

Michael Hardman, Senior Lecturer in Urban Geography, University of Salford and Nick Davies, Research Fellow, University of Salford.

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.