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Downtown: Its Rise and Fall, 1880-1950

by Robert M. Fogelson

Buy the book: Robert M. Fogelson. Downtown: Its Rise and Fall, 1880-1950

Release Date: May, 2003

Edition: Paperback


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Buy the book: Robert M. Fogelson. Downtown: Its Rise and Fall, 1880-1950

Intriguing Insights

This is an objective and highly readable history of the decentralization of American cities and the many efforts to stem the decline of downtown. The book's descriptions of the debates and strategies employed to maintain the dominance of downtown in light of suburban growth, the decline of public transit, the construction of urban highways and the rise of outlying shopping centers are intriguing. Some examples: Early subway projects were sometimes opposed as being a fruitless strategy to decrease congestion because they would only lead to more intense development that would bring increased downtown congestion (an argument often heard today regarding highway projects). Highways into downtown were viewed by many as a way to woo suburbanites back downtown, while they turned out to be a major impetus to suburban development. The atom bomb explosions in Hiroshima and Nagasaki led some planners to advocate for the end of high density settlements as being too risky in the nuclear age. The book doesn't get preachy the way many "planning" books do. It is an objective history that simply tells it like it is.

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An unrefined treasure

Fogelson's Downtown is a scholarly, though at times disjoint, review of the forces that shaped the cities of America during the 70 year span from 1880 to 1950.

Downtown offers a thorough treatment of several topics such as the formation of a central business district, transportation issues and the battle over building height limits. This book is not a light and breezy read, however. Each topic is explored in great detail and, though there is some overlap between the topics, the book does not make any attempt to integrate them into some sort of grand narrative.

The author demonstrates a broad knowledge of the major American cities during this era. Rich in detail, the book takes a well balanced look at all of the forces that shaped each issue. Most often these forces included the politics and the economics of the time.

The fact that no grand and unified theory is presented works in this book's favor. In the end, Downtown is free from any sort of bias and instead serves to present, as Sergeant Joe Friday would say, "just the facts."

Downtown is a well-researched and well-written work. It is a worthwhile read for anyone interested in studying the history and dynamics of America's downtowns.

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