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Downtown: Its Rise and Fall, 1880–1950 Paperback – April 10, 2003

ISBN-13: 978-0300098273 ISBN-10: 0300098278 Edition: 3rd Printing

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Product Details

  • Paperback: 492 pages
  • Publisher: Yale University Press; 3rd Printing edition (April 10, 2003)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0300098278
  • ISBN-13: 978-0300098273
  • Product Dimensions: 9.4 x 5.9 x 1.2 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.6 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.5 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (10 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #361,125 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Editorial Reviews

From Library Journal

One of the nation's leading urban historians, Fogelson (urban studies, MIT; The Fragmented Metropolis: Los Angeles, 1850-1930) examines the history of the American city center, from a position of business and commercial dominance in 1880 to one of obsolescence in the mid-20th century. Drawing on his comprehensive research, Fogelson presents a detailed portrayal of downtown's fragmented reaction to residential dispersal, the decentralization of business, traffic congestion, the Depression, and want of vision by downtown's leaders and advocates. He tracks controversial and conflicting public policy debates over rapid transit systems, limited building heights, zoning, traffic regulations, and public parking, which highlight uncoordinated and shortsighted attempts to reshape a once-dominant central city. Fogelson concludes with the perceptive and perhaps rueful observation that downtown's decline in the first half of the 20th century was mostly the result of an American vision of "bourgeois utopia," a nation of suburbs, which brought the beginning of urban sprawl. A superbly thorough analysis of the causes of inner-city blight, congestion, and economic decline in mid-20th century urban America, this is essential reading for American historians and an excellent addition to academic and urban libraries. John E. Hodgkins, Yarmouth, ME
Copyright 2001 Reed Business Information, Inc. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

From Booklist

Most U.S. cities have a downtown, historically the business, commercial, and entertainment hub of a city, to which many flock each day to work, shop, and play. In the words of the pop song, "the lights are much brighter there," where "you can forget all your troubles, forget all your care." Recently, downtown has been forgotten, but is the decline of downtown areas really a recent phenomenon? Fogelson--long interested in how downtowns have been shaped and have attracted people, businesses, traffic, and crime--argues that they have been doomed from the beginning of their existence. The American phenomenon of suburban sprawl has been occurring since American cities were founded. The decline of downtown areas was actually completed in the 1950s, though they have begun to reemerge once again as centers of activity. Projecting his enthusiasm for the subject in this very well researched history of America's downtown experience, Fogelson creates extremely engaging reading for those interested in the history of cities and urban experience. Michael Spinella
Copyright © American Library Association. All rights reserved --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

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7 of 7 people found the following review helpful By Thomas Allman on March 20, 2002
Format: Hardcover
This massive undertaking certainly fulfills its primary function of assembling, in one place, the various threads of intellectual discourse about the American central business district before 1950. It fills an interesting void in the literature by examining the details of why central business districts in American cities went from virtually uniform vitality in the 1920s to a post-war situaton where the signs of decline were everywhere to be seen. The writing is somewhat tedious, however, perhaps because the same points are made over and over again from different angles and from different urban areas. The author does a brilliant job of tracing the influence of a wide variety of attempted urban paneceas, ranging from highways and elevated railroads to removal of "blight." By concentrating on details (only Chicago, for instance, has consistently banned on-street parking in the downtown area), the reader is forced to examine individual issues, not maga-trends. One can only admire the scholarship and devotion to accuracy that went into the writing. My reservation about this book stems from the fact that the author eschews any analysis of the implications of his observations. He comments, for example, that the future of downtown rests upon individual residential choices and seemingly rejects the hope that intervention, in the form of government or privately financed sports facilities, convention centers, etc. will in the long run have much effect. However, the reader is left to wonder what the view of the author is on such issues as growth boundries, light rail, tax abatements, historic preservation, etc. - or even whether the author believes that the future of the central business district matters very much at all.Read more ›
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8 of 8 people found the following review helpful By Michael Lewyn VINE VOICE on August 21, 2005
Format: Paperback
Much of this book describes downtown in its early years of decline (1920-50): as cars and highways mushrooomed, shopping begin to move outside downtown. The solutions to this state of affairs were completely counterproductive: downtown business interests assumed that downtown's problem was too much congestion rather than too little, and so fought for a downtown overrun with parking lots and highways. For example, an official of one downtown business group in Los Angeles wrote in 1940 that freeways "will go a long way in solving the traffic problems and consequently make the trip to downtown Los Angeles pleasant for customers and productive for downtown merchants and office tenants alike, and thereby recentralize businesses and offices in a compact area." (p. 274).

The result: even more suburban sprawl as suburbanites took advantage of easier commutes to move further out, and an even deader downtown as highways and parking lots took the place of shops and offices.

Why did downtown boosters make this mistake? Because in downtown's heyday at the start of the century, downtown really was immensely congested; due to the difficulties of intracity travel, nearly all business was downtown. So like generals fighting the last war, downtown boosters were fixated on the congested downtown of 1900, and trying to apply 1900 solutions to the far less lively downtowns of the late 20th century.
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5 of 5 people found the following review helpful By A Customer on February 17, 2004
Format: Paperback
This is a wonderful book; it is comprehensively researched and offers a detailed history of why US downtowns developed and declined. Anybody who is interested in urban planning and downtown revitalization should read this to see why downtowns were successful for so many years and why they fell; for example, a current trend is to revitalize downtowns by attracting more residents, but 19th century downtowns developed by pushing out residents in favor of commercial growth. I couldn't put this book down; it's absolutely compelling and I would highly recommend it.
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4 of 4 people found the following review helpful By Patrick J. Caraher on November 7, 2002
Format: Hardcover
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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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful By Jerry Robbins on December 31, 2002
Format: Hardcover
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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