Black Neighborhoods Need Complete Infrastructure, NOT (In)Complete Streets

Time has come for me to go off on Baltimore’s White-oriented and White-dominated transit advocacy groups.

These groups and advocates are the classic example of folks who THINK they are progressive and use equity as a buzzword all while ignoring what Black advocates are saying about Black mobility needs in the wake of über white supremacist transit policies and practices. The gaslighting and smugness is off the chain.

Many White-dominated transit advocacy groups pursue Complete Streets as a zealous article of faith. But Complete Streets zealots don’t comprehensively address the legacy of white supremacy in transit and planning in Black neighborhoods. Complete Streets don’t bring jobs and businesses into redlined Black neighborhoods so that Black folks don’t have to commute to work in automobiles. Complete Streets has yet to repair a raggedy bus system — run by the State of Maryland — that doesn’t get Black people to work on time and holds many in transit detention. Complete Streets leaves out the concerns of many people who live with disabilities who can’t ride bikes and senior citizens who may be impacted by the loss of street parking.

White-oriented transit advocacy groups dominate Baltimore’s transit discourse and crowd out a visioning for transit equity that centers Black communities and people living with disabilities. Thus, alternative narratives and transit visions are missing from transit planning and design. As Zavestoski and Agyeman argue in their book Incomplete Streets: “When important social and symbolic narratives are missing from the discourse and practice of Complete Streets, what actually results are incomplete streets.”

Baltimore is replete with incomplete streets. So don’t tell me “car culture is an atrocity” when white supremacist planners built highways through Black neighborhoods, moved jobs to the suburbs, then gave Black folks raggedy and racist public transit systems. White supremacist planning is the atrocity that produced the “car culture.” By omitting this central fact of history, Complete Streets is a reductionistic dominant transit narrative that is part and parcel of white supremacist planning approaches.

Once you know the history, it turns out that “car culture” in Black neighborhoods is simply SURVIVAL in the face of ongoing transit and urban apartheid. The only way to heal transit and urban apartheid is Complete Infrastructure to address the needs of redlined Black neighborhoods holistically. By default, this includes a Black planning agenda for transit equity and Black Neighborhood Reparations to remedy the damage inflicted by racist planning policies and practices.

So if so-called transit advocates aren’t talking about that — about healing Black neighborhoods from the onslaught of white supremacist urban and transit planning histories and current realities then they are promoting fake equity, plain and simple. Don’t come to redlined Black neighborhoods dictating transit programs that look good in White L neighborhoods (which are flooded with immense structural advantages), but don’t do a damn thing to address the state of exigency in redlined Black neighborhoods.

Don’t tell people “Y’all need to go over Jordan river to the Promised Land” unless you are building the bridge to get them there! Or you’re magically Moses and you know how to part the waters (and y’all ain’t Moses!). Redlined places can’t go to a new mindset without the Complete Infrastructure to get us there!

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Lawrence Brown

Urban Afrofuturist. Equity scientist. Author of “The Black Butterfly: The Harmful Politics of Race and Space in America.” linktr.ee/bmoredoc