Roads, Highways, and Ecosystems | National Humanities Center

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Roads, Highways, and Ecosystems

By Stilgoe, John

Who studies roads as mini-environments? Very few scholars do, in fact almost none. Highway engineers know a great deal about engineering roads but admit to knowing little about their ecological and cultural effects. But look again. Every road is a sort of ecosystem that ecologists are only just now starting to study. Paved roads transformed American towns and cities by allowing businesses to spread along the automobile traffic. Just as the pavement increases rainfall runoff and enables certain plants to prosper along it, so traffic causes businesses to prosper along all but limited access highways. Put up a building and a sign, and some motorists will pull off the public pavement into the private parking lot, get out, and buy. Railroads concentrate businesses, for passenger trains stop only at specific locations. Highways cause business to spread out, to move to suburbs, to the edge of town, to form commercial strips dependent on motorists pulling to the edge of the pavement–just as rainfall runoff does.

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Geography / History / Environment and Nature / Transportation / Railroads / Farmers / Roads / Motor Vehicles / Ecology /