Highways are racist, infrastructure is woke

Plus, the Southern Baptist Convention needs to face history to save its future

It all comes down to OG NIMBY versus woke NIMBY. The NIMBY of the 1950s that left Black neighborhoods divided has become the woke infrastructure of the 2020s that turns those divided neighborhoods into chic prestigious addresses at taxpayer expense, while the Black neighborhoods have moved elsewhere.

Not all NIMBY is the same. Back in the days when racism in America was actually institutional and ubiquitous, the authorities in charge of constructing highways had no problem carving up Black neighborhoods to make room for multilane monsters of blacktop and white paint. This is history, and it happened.

Big cities like Boston and Los Angeles attacked traffic in different ways, but all were focused on moving more motor vehicles over bridges, through valleys, and around city centers. The problem of racist highways is frequently an issue of poor capacity planning than one of racist intent.

For instance, in Boston, the Tobin Bridge was opened in 1950, it could carry around 13.5 million vehicles per year. In the post World War II economic boom, the North Shore of Boston went from a sleepy fishing, shoe factory, and industrial economy to a bedroom commuter community for the city. Cars had to cross the Mystic River through Charlestown, and the multilane, multilevel bridge was the answer.

Over the years, traffic congestion in the Central Artery through Boston made it obvious a new solution was needed. The resulting “Big Dig” took three decades and $24 billion to finish. It moved the Central Artery underground, and finally reunited neighborhoods run through by the old highway.

Sixteen years later: Did it work? Not really. Traffic still backs up every day from the North Shore and the South Shore.

Did it open up neighborhoods? Yes. Did it improve the lot of the Black community in Boston? Not at all.

All kinds of previously nondescript buildings are being redeveloped and turned into lofts and office space — buildings that had little value when they overlooked an elevated highway and are now suddenly on a gold coast. New developments, like the InterContinental Boston, enjoy a prestige address, and there is more to come, including the major redevelopment projects of the Government Center Garage and the Harbor Garage. These sites are the Boston equivalent of Fifth Avenue along Central Park in New York City.

Gentrification and urban renewal benefit real estate developers of prestige properties. It doesn’t spur neighborhood development because the neighborhoods in inner cities have long been abandoned for multipurpose lofts and chic shopping destinations.

In a rewriting of history, and a denial of the nature of economic theories, we are seeing a “woke infrastructure” movement, to remove highways dividing communities, because this somehow will recompense the Black communities they went through. From the New York Times:

Pete Buttigieg, who heads the [Department of Transportation], has expressed support for removing barriers that divided Black and minority communities, saying that “there is racism physically built into some of our highways.” Midcentury highway projects often targeted Black neighborhoods, destroying cultural and economic centers and bringing decades of environmental harm.

The Black communities lacked the political clout to prevent NIMBY on those large highway projects from the 1950s. But removing the highways will create another round of NIMBY, this time with the “wokes” deciding who ends up on the short end of the stick.

I wonder if they know their plans won’t work. When the highways are removed, creating these islands of public space, bike-share, clean transit and walking-space, neighborhoods won’t miraculously take root, providing an enclave for Black culture. What will happen is more of Boston. Cost overruns, continuing traffic, and a boom for real estate developers, with the same economically disadvantaged Black and other minority groups shoved around like so many Chinese in the way of a dam. But it will look oh so politically correct.

NIMBY victory goes to the ones with the clout to enforce it. Infrastructure dollars sprinkled into cities to remove ugly highways and replace them with green spaces will benefit exactly the politically connected elites who advocate these plans. That they do it with a veneer of woke doesn’t change the fact that NIMBY losers will still lose, just in a different neighborhood.

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The Southern Baptist Convention needs to face its past

The SBC lost 3 percent of its members in 2020, a 50% increase over 2019. The Christian Post reported:

The Annual Church Profile report shows membership in SBC congregations declined by a staggering 435,632 in 2020, more than 50% higher than the 287,655 members the denomination reported losing from 2018 to 2019.

While the number of SBC congregations increased slightly by 62 to 47,592 over the previous year, the decline in membership in 2020 continues a sustained negative 14-year trend that began when SBC church membership peaked at 16.3 million in 2006. Since then, the denomination has declined in membership by nearly 2 million.

As politics has infiltrated and supplanted faith in God, in religion, church members have replaced worship with political rhetoric and their prayers with tweets. Why bother going to church when you can watch preachers online? Why bother giving to a church or serving as a member when you can just vote for Trump and own the libs?

In 1995, the SBC adopted a Resolution on Racial Reconciliation. In part, it seeks forgiveness for past racism.

Be it further RESOLVED, That we lament and repudiate historic acts of evil such as slavery from which we continue to reap a bitter harvest, and we recognize that the racism which yet plagues our culture today is inextricably tied to the past; and

Be it further RESOLVED, That we apologize to all African-Americans for condoning and/or perpetuating individual and systemic racism in our lifetime; and we genuinely repent of racism of which we have been guilty, whether consciously (Psalm 19:13) or unconsciously (Leviticus 4:27); and

Be it further RESOLVED, That we ask forgiveness from our African-American brothers and sisters, acknowledging that our own healing is at stake; and

Be it further RESOLVED, That we hereby commit ourselves to eradicate racism in all its forms from Southern Baptist life and ministry;

The saying goes: Easier said than done.

Despite the expression of repentance, the SBC retained symbols of its racist past. Then it decided a bout of wokeness might help, by accepting some elements of Critical Race Theory. This caused a backlash, when six Baptist seminary presidents repudiated CRT as “incompatible with the Baptist Faith & Message.”

CRT is incompatible with the Gospel, full stop. That doesn’t mean every assertion made by supporters of Critical Theory are false, or the experiences of Black Christians are to be discarded. But the SBC is grasping at straws, hoping that there’s some “magic prayer” that will dispose of 100 years or more of endemic, and even institutional, racism in its ranks. The problem is, there isn’t one.

And members are sick of the mix of appeasement to the post-Christian liberal world in words, while quietly supporting the very policies, politics, and organizations that have caused racial tensions to rise over the last two decades.

The SBC needs to really face its past, and make real amends, mostly by stepping out of the political realm, and strongly cautioning its pastors and leaders of the danger of politicizing the Gospel. As toxic as CRT is to a faith-filled life honoring God, a political faith centered on promoting candidates and agendas is equally toxic, if not more so, because the fruit of the SBC’s misguided statements and policies is a massive loss of members year after year.

I plan to write more on this topic, dealing with different Christian denominations and their approach to racial reconciliation. The SBC has a particularly difficult problem, and until the problem is solved, it will continue to suffer losses, and endure controversy.

Many of my good friends are Baptists, and I have nothing but respect for the God-fearing church members who faithfully share the Gospel, give generously, raise their kids with grace and discipline, and generally behave ethically and with kindness.

My main point here is that the leadership needs to decide what kind of organization the SBC wants to be, and then do it with more than words.

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