More Cities Are Banishing Highways Underground — And Building Parks on Top

April 2,2018

Source: Martha T. Moore, The Pew Charitable Trusts

The most popular place to put a city park is, increasingly, on a highway.

Cities looking to boost their downtowns, or to improve downtrodden neighborhoods, are creating “highway cap parks” on decks constructed over freeways that cut through the urban center. Pittsburgh, Philadelphia, Denver and Dallas have deck parks underway. Atlanta, Houston, Minneapolis and Santa Monica, California, are among the cities considering similar projects.

In crowded cities, highway deck parks are a way to create new acreage and provide green space that can spur downtown development. Capping a highway to create a park also can reconnect urban neighborhoods sliced apart by the expressway building boom of the 1960s and ’70s.


Some deck parks have been around for decades: Seattle opened Freeway Park over I-5 in 1976 and Phoenix has had a park over I-10 since 1990. The current surge is being spurred by strong demand for development in the urban core, where there’s not much space for new parks.

“If you had plenty of other well-located urban land, you don’t need to spend hundreds of millions of dollars to make this location better,” said Jennifer Ball, vice president for planning and economic development of Central Atlanta Progress, a business coalition. “This urban land is at a premium now.”

To respond to the demand, Central Atlanta Progress has designed and is studying the feasibility of the Stitch, a $300 million proposed project to cover portions of the I-75/I-85 “connector” that creates a 14-lane gash through Atlanta’s downtown. The Stitch would include parks, a rebuilt transit station, and land for new development.

“It really is an economic development strategy,” Ball said. “It has a park, but if you dig closely into all the pretty renderings, we also see it as real estate development projects and the development of air rights. You’re creating land.”

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