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Perceptions of American streets before and after the Dawn of the Motor Age

Ben Franklin Bridge Walkways

In his 2008 book Fighting Traffic: The Dawn of the Motor Age in the American City, Peter Norton documents thoroughly the shift in popular perception of what city streets are for.Drawing on sources cited in 113 pages of footnotes, Norton brings forth the voices of children, parents, pedestrians, police officers, motorists, engineers, politicians, and automobile tycoons of the yearssurrounding the 1920’s – the decade the Motor Age dawned.

Norton’s central claim is that before American cities were physically reconstructed for the Motor Age, they first were socially reconstructed.Prior to the 1920’s, the prevailing social construction of city streets was public space between buildings; by 1930, it was motor thoroughfares.My purpose here is to communicate prevailing social perceptions before and after the 1920’s by quoting a few of Norton’s paragraphs.Forthe story of the revolution in perception, read the book.It significantly enhanced my…

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