Algorithms and Software Development: An Integrated Study; Socioeconomic Impact of Highway Removal in American Cities

Chang, Hyung Tae, School of Engineering and Applied Science, University of Virginia
Campbell, Brad, EN-Comp Science Dept, University of Virginia

My STS research paper, Socioeconomic Impact of Highway Removal in American Cities, studies the sociotechnical relationship between freeways, cities, and politics. During the 1950’s and 1960’s the United States federal government undertook a massive project to build highways through major U.S. cities that would undermine many underprivileged neighborhoods (Stromberg, 2015). As these highways are beginning to deteriorate, these cities are deciding between maintaining the highways and removing them altogether. The research paper dives into how removing freeways in the cities will affect the surrounding neighborhoods in terms of traffic, economy, safety, and racial reconciliation. These topics are explored through the STS lens of political technologies, and how removal relates to power, equality, and distribution resources within cities. The motivation behind this work is to explore how largely political technologies can be used in a beneficial way. While political technologies are often misused, this paper dissects the sociotechnical relationships behind removing freeways in order to find if they can be beneficial.
The technical portion of this project was a proposed course design that would combine two classes at the University of Virginia, CS 4102 (Algorithms) and CS 3240 (Advanced Software Development Techniques). This synthesis introduced the current successes and shortcomings of the two classes, and introduced a third combined class that could improve on the two courses’ designs. The motivation for this project was to pursue academic excellence for the university. The educational institutions push our society forward toward development and innovation, so it is clear that these same institutions should continue to change and improve in techniques and programs of learning.
The Socioeconomic Impact of Highway Removal in American Cities examined multiple case studies of highway removal projects across the United States. Each of these case studies were analyzed by their effects on their respective city’s traffic, economic developments, and racial/socioeconomic relations. Many of the cities found reductions in traffic around and near the removed freeways, yet suffered some level of traffic and congestion increases in other areas. Often these spikes in traffic volume were successfully mitigated through changes in traffic patterns, well designed traffic grids, and by the economic principle of supply and demand. In every case, the freeway removals directly resulted in millions of dollars in new investments, establishment of new business, and the creation of new housing units. Additionally, each case found a rise in property valuations around the removed freeway that outpaced the growth of the city as a whole. Many of these highways had tense racial and socioeconomic histories are they had the purpose to hamstring the communities they were built through. While none of the removals could completely restore the loss that they caused, in many cases, the local community was involved in these decision making and throughout the process of removal. Even with these voices involved, cities still had many problems with gentrification and housing costs becoming unaffordable for the people that lived in these areas.
Based on the case studies, the overall benefits seem to outweigh the potential drawbacks of removing these highways. However, as with most political technologies, there were many unforeseen ramifications for each of these cases. Many of the cities involved were able to deal with these issues by communicating with the communities and by continuing to evaluate the situations. It is clear that when dealing with such massive political technologies, not every outcome can be controlled. However, with carefully planning and vigilant monitoring, cities can continue to successfully remove freeways in ways that can benefit nearby communities without significant fallout for local families and business or for other regions within their cities.
The technical portion of this project proposed a new course that would cover both CS 4102 (Algorithms) and CS 3240 (Advanced Software Development Techniques. These courses can be restructured as a two-semester course that teaches both algorithms and software development. As opposed to assigning independent homework around algorithm techniques and having a semester long project to build a web application, the new courses would feature a more rigorous and complex project featuring different algorithms, data structures, and web development techniques. Rather than basic requirements, the website design could have much more complex issues and features that require different types of algorithms to implement. Because CS 3240 and CS 4102 are semester-long courses, the proposed course would take place over an entire school year. Many lectures would be dedicated to learning different types of algorithms, while others would be devoted to working on web application.
One of the benefits of working on these two portions simultaneously was that I was able to see how important education and history are to the field of engineering. While these topics are very loosely related, in both cases, looking at the past and using it to improve on the future was a key component. The STS analysis of political technologies gives a macro view of how technologies can be abused and how they can be carefully an properly used for good. On the other hand, the technical portion explored how improving technical education can help engineers focus on the totality of the engineering and technical aspects. I think that these two projects show two sides of the same coin. Engineering maximizes its potential when no aspect is neglected and used in its fullness.

BS (Bachelor of Science)

School of Engineering and Applied Science
Bachelor of Science in Computer Science
Technical Advisor: Rosanne Vrugtman
STS Advisor: Bryn E. Seabrook

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