The 1950s: Suburbanization and Highway Construction

New housing subdivison
Downtown Connector
City of Atlanta: Central Rehabilitation and Clearance Areas; Comprehensive plan, city of Altanta, 1958: land use, major thoroughfares, community facilities, public improvements

In the 1950s, two major trends contributed to the implementation of urban renewal projects: suburbanization and the construction of the interstate highway system. Nationally, the postwar period saw an increase in the use of private automobiles and a mass exodus of urban residents to suburban areas. In response to the growing suburbanization in American cities, President Dwight D. Eisenhower authorized in 1956 the creation of 41,000 miles of interstate highways, some of which would bisect the city of Atlanta. The construction of the Downtown Connector had an irreversible effect on Atlanta, as it demolished several downtown neighborhoods and destroyed street grids. Around the same time, federal legislation authorized the use of federal funding for urban renewal projects such as slum clearance. These projects were intended to address urban issues such as crime and unsafe living conditions but often resulted in the displacement of downtown residents. Notably, most of the neighborhoods targeted for demolition were composed of Black residents who later did not receive relocation assistance as required by federal law. The trends seen in the 1950s were exacerbated by discriminatory policies that maintained the spatial segregation of the city.