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Watching the Traffic Go By

PAUL MASON FOTSCH
Copyright Date: 2007
https://www.jstor.org/stable/10.7560/714250
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  • Book Info
    Watching the Traffic Go By
    Book Description:

    As twentieth-century city planners invested in new transportation systems to deal with urban growth, they ensured that the automobile rather than mass transit would dominate transportation. Combining an exploration of planning documents, sociological studies, and popular culture, Paul Fotsch shows how our urban infrastructure developed and how it has shaped American culture ever since.

    Watching the Traffic Go Byemphasizes the narratives underlying our perceptions of innovations in transportation by looking at the stories we have built around these innovations. Fotsch finds such stories in the General Motors "Futurama" exhibit at the 1939 World's Fair, debates inMunsey's magazine, films such asDouble Indemnity, and even in footage of the O. J. Simpson chase along Los Angeles freeways.

    Juxtaposed with contemporaneous critiques by Lewis Mumford, Theodor Adorno, and Max Horkheimer, Fotsch argues that these narratives celebrated new technologies that fostered stability for business and the white middle class. At the same time, transportation became another system of excluding women and the poor, especially African Americans, by isolating them in homes and urban ghettos.

    A timely, interdisciplinary analysis,Watching the Traffic Go Byexposes the ugly side of transportation politics through the seldom-used lens of popular culture.

    eISBN: 978-0-292-79535-8
    Subjects: Sociology, Film Studies

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-viii)
  3. ACKNOWLEDGMENTS
    (pp. ix-xiv)
  4. INTRODUCTION: STABILIZING MOBILITY
    (pp. 1-10)

    In the fall of 1991 I moved from Hyde Park, a neighborhood on the south side of Chicago, to University City on the northern edge of San Diego. In Hyde Park, where the University of Chicago is located, many people walk to campus, local coffee shops, or grocery stores. In University City, adjacent to the University of California, San Diego, people largely travel by automobile, even when going shopping at stores only a few—albeit long—blocks from home. University City is a classic example of what Joel Garreau (1992) calls an ″Edge City″: it contains central elements of a...

  5. PART 1. TRANSPORTATION AS ANTIDOTE TO MODERN CITY
    • CHAPTER 1 THE TROLLEY, THE AUTOMOBILE, AND AUTONOMY
      (pp. 13-36)

      The above quotes from a popular American religious magazine celebrate the arrival of the trolley and automobile to urban America at the turn of the century. On one level this celebration is based on the hope that these new forms of transportation will benefit the physical environment of the city. In contrast to the steam railroad, electric rail is quiet and smooth; it lacks the soot and smoke of the steam engine. ″The trolley comes without noise: it is a still force, an expression of immense power, without the boastfulness of steam. This will count greatly in the coming age,...

    • CHAPTER 2 TOWNLESS HIGHWAYS AND HIGHWAYLESS TOWNS
      (pp. 37-60)

      In less than thirty years, what had been an oddity on city streets became common: the value of owning an automobile was no longer questioned; rather the question had become how to accommodate the rapid growth in car ownership. The premise of this question was even accepted by Lewis Mumford, who, as the longtimeNew Yorkerarchitecture critic, is likely best known for frequently attacking the automobile′s dominance of the city. In particular, he was an outspoken critic of the highways being built in and around New York City by Robert Moses (Caro 1975). But the first quote above reveals...

  6. PART 2. GERMAN CRITICAL THEORY MEETS AMERICAN CARTOPIA
    • CHAPTER 3 THE BUILDING OF A SUPERHIGHWAY FUTURE AT THE NEW YORK WORLD’S FAIR
      (pp. 63-92)

      Futurama, a diorama designed by Norman Bel Geddes and sponsored by General Motors was the most popular exhibit at the 1939 New York World′s Fair. During the 1930s a few urban highways had been built, but this exhibit was spectacular by comparison. It depicted the United States in the year 1960 with multilane superhighways crossing the country. Viewers stood in line for hours to enter it. Upon entering, they were seated on moving benches with built-in speakers that transmitted explanations for each element of the diorama.Business Week(1939: 27) described the scene: ″More than 30,000 persons daily, the show′s...

    • CHAPTER 4 FILM NOIR AND THE HIDDEN VIOLENCE OF TRANSPORTATION IN LOS ANGELES
      (pp. 93-118)

      In 1937 the Automobile Club of Southern California produced a Los Angeles motorway plan that was to become the model for a system of ″parkways″ approved in 1941 by the Los Angeles Department of City Planning (Bottles 1987: 216–223). A broad consensus had developed that accommodating the automobile was the most rational form of urban design. Yet, at the peak of this enthusiasm for automobile-centered cities, voices of dissent emerged. In the year of the plan′s approval, German philosopher and social theorist Theodor Adorno moved to Southern California. Here he met his colleague from Frankfurt Max Horkheimer, who had...

  7. PART 3. THE PUBLIC’S FEARS OF URBAN GRIDLOCK
    • CHAPTER 5 STORIES OF THE MTA: CONTESTING MEANINGS OF SUBWAY SPACE
      (pp. 121-158)

      In the early 1980s the introduction toSaturday Night Livebegan with ″Live from New York, the most dangerous city in America.″ In an episode of the ″Rocket Report″ on one of these programs, guest host Charlene Tilton takes a ride through the subways with Charles Rocket. Rocket stands by with microphone in hand to report Tilton′s impressions as she excitedly steps onto a graffiti-covered subway car. After a brief ride, the two step off the train and Rocket asks what Tilton thinks. A smiling Tilton is in disbelief. ″My wallet is still there!″ she exclaims, almost disappointed.

      A decade...

    • CHAPTER 6 URBAN FREEWAY STORIES: RACIAL POLITICS AND THE ARMORED AUTOMOBILE
      (pp. 159-186)

      June 17, 1994, millions of people watched a white Ford Bronco bearing O. J. Simpson driven at thirty-five to forty-five miles per hour along the Los Angeles freeways followed by ten patrol cars. This event holds rich possibilities for the examination of American culture, but I wish to focus on it primarily as a moment in the cultural history of the freeway. This event, rather than being wholly bizarre as many news reports described it, in many ways embodies the freeway′s evolving impact. The freeway became a site for an enormous audience and an element in a common narrative spread...

  8. EPILOGUE
    (pp. 187-194)

    When I began thinking about the impact of transportation on urban space, I had an ideal vision of how cities should be designed. I missed the easy accessibility of Hyde Park in Chicago, where I recall Friday nights walking down the streets listening for sounds of celebration coming from apartments usually open to strangers. I had also just returned from visiting Paris during the 1991 conflict in the Middle East. There I participated in a demonstration of more than 100,000 people: a demonstration I saw facilitated by the Paris Metro. These memories contrasted dramatically with the discomfort I felt walking...

  9. NOTES
    (pp. 195-206)
  10. WORKS CITED
    (pp. 207-228)
  11. INDEX
    (pp. 229-240)