Buttigieg tweet on Chinatown shines light on racism in infrastructure

PHILADELPHIA (KYW Newsradio) — Back when the Vine Street Expressway was just a project on the planning chart, residents of Chinatown were none too happy with the idea.

Now, amid the ongoing debate over Asian discrimination in this country, the U.S. transportation secretary is turning to Twitter to discuss how highway projects can make or break neighborhoods, using Philadelphia's Chinatown as an example.

When Secretary of Transportation Pete Buttigieg tweeted Asian American and Pacific Islander (AAPI) communities should be protected by keeping them whole, it caught the attention of Michael Carroll, with Philadelphia's Office of Transportation, Infrastructure and Sustainability.

"I think it's definitely right on," said Carroll. "I think we definitely don't want to repeat errors of the past in terms of dividing and in some ways destroying communities with the infrastructure decisions that we make."

He said this was an issue he helped address during the Obama administration through then-Transportation Secretary Anthony Foxx, who specifically asked for community input from Philadelphia's Chinatown and two other cities. In 2017, they released a report called the "Every Place Counts Design Challenge," which specifically focused on Philadelphia's Chinatown.

"They sat down with actual community members who lived the experience, and listened and learned and brainstormed," Carroll said. "These ideas come from the community as much as it comes from any planners or engineers who work in government."

"The ideas that we looked at ranged from things that could happen in the short term in terms of improving the pedestrian crossings, to things that are a little bit more medium-term to figuring out how we can green the space a little bit better, take advantage of some of the bridge crossings to enhance some of the areas that are set aside as public space," he added.

"There are some longer-term ideas that were thrown out as well, including figuring out maybe some areas of the Vine Street that could be capped in some ways."

Those projects, according to Carroll, were not prioritized during the Trump administration. However, things have changed.

"I'm encouraged that now we have partners at the federal level that are going to join us in that work and hopefully help us figure out ways to resource it," he said. "It really is going to take all levels of government to make changes of that scale."