One of the weirder trends in American discourse these days is the decline in any sense of how long ago specific dates in the past were when asserting theories of historical causality. Black students at Princeton are oppressed by Woodrow Wilson, while Genius T. Coates blames everything on FDR’s FHA.
For example, here’s a big article in The Atlantic about how the current troubles of black people in Syracuse, NY are due to the construction of an elevated highway during the Eisenhower Administration:
How to Decimate a CityThe article doesn’t explain exactly when I-81 was built, but does say the money was raised in 1956, which was 59 years ago.
Syracuse thought that by building a giant highway in the middle of town it could become an economic powerhouse. Instead, it got a bad bout of white flight and the worst slum problem in America.
ALANA SEMUELS NOV 20, 2015 BUSINESS
Commenters have jumped in to top the article’s sense of historical causality by saying that it wasn’t really the highway that ruined Syracuse economically, it was construction of the New York Central railroad and/or the Erie Canal, which was during the Clinton Administration (DeWitt Clinton, that is).
Nor is it fashionable to compare geographies to reality check one’s theories. For example, lots of upstate New York cities didn’t build elevated highways through downtown, but are also struggling today.
Conversely, about the same time as the Syracuse highway, Sherman Oaks/Encino in Southern California’s San Fernando Valley was sliced up by two freeways, the 101 (the Ventura Freeway) and the 405 (the San Diego Freeway).
So you can just imagine what an urban wasteland Sherman Oaks is today with all that transportation infrastructure. Here’s the bar in the lobby of the Arclight Cinemas Sherman Oaks ($16 per ticket), overlooking the 405 a block south of the 101. The window on the right is about 20 feet from the freeway:
Seriously, the problem with upstate New York today is that it was the high tech manufacturing capital of America in the 19th Century due to abundant waterfalls to drive mills and the influx of enterprising post-Puritan Yankees from nearby New England. There is still a lot of tech in upstate New York. Corning’s Gorilla Glass, that amazingly durable material in smartphone screens, was R&Ded in upstate New York (although it’s manufactured in Kentucky and overseas).
But mill streams and canals as economic resources passed their peaks maybe 125-175 years ago, so upstate New York is overbuilt with small cities that made brilliant economic sense at one time but not any longer. Cheap houses and generous welfare programs keep people around.