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Island Press publishes Retzlaff's 'Justice and the Interstates: The Racist Truth about Urban Highways'

Justice and the Interstates book cover

When the U.S. interstate system was constructed, spurred by the Federal Aid Highway Act of 1956, many highways were purposefully routed through Black, Brown and low-income communities. These neighborhoods were destroyed, isolated from the rest of the city or left to deteriorate over time.

"Justice and the Interstates: The Racist Truth about Urban Highways," published Jan. 31 by Island Press, edited by Rebecca Retzlaff, Ryan Reft and Amanda Phillips de Lucas, examines the toll that the construction of the U.S. Interstate Highway System has taken on vulnerable communities over the past seven decades and how some communities are working to rebuild. The chapters, written by experts and thought leaders, use real-world stories to illuminate the injustices of the highway system and current efforts to repair the damage.

Between 1957 to 1977, around one million people were displaced by Interstate construction. In Alabama, white supremacists used interstate highway routing to disrupt the civil rights movement, illustrating how reckoning with racist highway design is a critical part of a building a safer, healthier and more equitable future. In St. Paul, Minnesota, community-led efforts to restore the historically Black Rondo neighborhood shows a contemporary path to transportation justice.

Throughout "Justice and the Interstates," chapter authors detail efforts to restore these often-segregated communities, make recommendations for moving forward, and call on transportation planners and engineers, urban planners and policymakers to account for the legacies of their practices.

"Justice and the Interstates" provides a concise, thoughtful examination of the damages wrought by highway construction on vulnerable communities in America. Community advocates, transportation planners, engineers, historians and policymakers will learn how to both address this history and reconcile it with current practices.

Rebecca Retzlaff is a professor in the Community Planning Program and director of the Academic Sustainability Program at Auburn University. She formerly worked as a planner with the City of Detroit and in the research department of the American Planning Association.


Founded in 1984, Island Press works to stimulate, shape, and communicate the information that is essential for solving environmental problems. Today, with more than 1,000 titles in print and some 30 new releases each year, it is the nation’s leading publisher of books on environmental issues. Island Press is driving change by moving ideas from the printed page to public discourse and practice. Island Press’s emphasis is, and will continue to be, on transforming objective information into understanding and action.

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