What If Interstate 94 Was a Park?

I’ve always wondered what life would be like if we did away with highway infrastructure. Television shows such as Life After Humans depict infrastructure eventually succumbing to the forces of nature, overbearing with moss and exotic animals.  What if this happened while humans still inhabited this world? While only the fantasy of some urban designers, this dream has become a reality for some metropolitan areas.

Cheonggyecheon Restoration Project, before and after river improvements

Specifically, the city of Seoul, South Korea has set high standards of urban design to accommodate shifting away from automobile-centered transit, and making way for ecology to flourish in the city. Upon first coming upon Seoul’s urban revitalization project, I simply did not believe it.  Since the 1940’s, the Cheonggyecheon River has been filled with cement, and in 1976, the river was fully converted into the Cheonggyecheon Highway.  While considered a modern marvel of the time, 27 years later, the city recognized the need for more environmental solutions to rising pollution and traffic issues.  The Cheonggyecheon Restoration Project both resorted the underlying river, and implemented a walkable park for residents in the center of the city, similar to projects of New York’s Highline, and even the Minneapolis’ Stone Arch Pedestrian Bridge.

Plan of Cheonggyecheon Restoration
Cheonggyecheon Stream in pedestrian use

I could not help but think after seeing this, what would happen if the Twin Cities’ Interstate 94 was converted into a walkable parkway? Although, a very far stretch, I contemplated how St Paul communities once broken by the intersecting highway would interact without the presence of surrounding massive automobile infrastructure.

I-94 Corridor Entering Minneapolis

With the metro transit green line soon to serve as uninterrupted transit mode between Minneapolis-St Paul, this leaves the Twin Cities in a unique position to dream of new uses of once solely automobile-usable infrastructure.  Although possibly a fanciful thought, the designer in me can only imagine a metropolitan environment where the street car serves as the mass transit between the two urban cores of the Twin Cities, and transit infrastructure such as I-94, would instead be used as walkable park space, mixed used residential and business space, or even an indoor bicycle facility.

Rendering of future lightrail at St Paul’s Union Depot.

For many Twin Cities residents, the automobile serves as the main means of transportation between our two cities. Likewise for myself, every weekend driving from SE Minneapolis, to my serving job in downtown St Paul, I find myself caught in traffic along the congested I-94. With the opening of accessible public transportation, I not only see the opportunity to restore a better connection between our two cities, and communities within St Paul, but also the challenge for designers and planners to discover innovate uses of existing infrastructure.

What opportunities does new transit-connection offer the Twin Cities? What innovative ways should we investigate to reuse once strictly automobile spaces?

Images from Abbey Seitz, wwf.panda.org, lafoundation, and the Central Delaware Advocacy Group. Data linked to sources.

Abbey Seitz

About Abbey Seitz

Abbey Seitz, Minnesota native, is a professional urban and regional planner based in Honolulu. Her experience in planning and community organizing in Hawai’i has played a distinct role in her writing, leading her to question why and how places, cities, and regions came to be as they are. She recently released her first book, Perseverance Flooded the Streets.