Re: Freeway Revolt

06/14/17 - posted by Frank Dunnigan

There’s nothing like a college thesis for dry reading.

That said, however, the author made two good points, buried deep in the verbiage:
• The freeways that were actually constructed in San Francisco in the 1950s generally ran through commercial and industrial areas, and there was relatively little formal opposition when such routes were being planned and built.
• When plans for new freeways started to include residential neighborhoods (Parkside/Glen Park) and City parks, opposition mounted swiftly.

The author seems to believe that the freeway revolt was a “men vs. women” issue when he cites that it was mostly men involved in the politics, design, and construction of freeways, and that it was mostly women who were opposed—an over-generalization. The author backs his claim by citing statistics that 99% of building engineers at that time were men, the construction trades were virtually all-male, and that only 2 women served on the 11-member San Francisco Board of Supervisors during that era. He asserts that it was women who led the opposition to freeways because of the potential impact on their homes and families, suggesting that most men did not share such sentiments.

Looking at vintage photos from the SFPL collection, it’s easy to see how the writer might have come up with such a conclusion. Pictures of freeway openings generally featured men (who were “on the job” so to speak as politicians, engineers, and construction workers), while images of freeway opposition events generally featured women (who were often speaking out on their own time):

It is a fact that women AND men both resided in areas that would have been impacted by structures like the Western Freeway, and that virtually ALL residents of such areas—women and men alike—were opposed to freeways that would demolish their homes, schools, houses of worship, businesses, and ways of life.

However, it was women (often accompanied by children) who represented a far more visible face of the opposition forces, due to the level of their participation in the paid workforce in the 1950s-60s. Simply put, more women than men were at home and available to be out there on daytime picket lines and in the forefront of protest activities at daytime public hearings, though virtually everyone living in the impacted areas—women and men alike—were united in their opposition to the destruction of their neighborhoods by freeways.

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