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Twentieth-Century Sprawl: Highways and the Reshaping of the American Landscape Reprint Edition

4.2 out of 5 stars 6 customer reviews
ISBN-13: 978-0195189070
ISBN-10: 0195189078
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Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

In 1950, 74 percent of the population of metropolitan Denver lived within the city’s borders. Twenty years later, that figure had plummeted to 42 percent, as sprawling towns along the highways siphoned jobs and people from the central city. Pollution, largely a result of ballooning traffic, frequently formed a "brown cloud" over the Mile-High City. By the mid-1970s, Colorado Gov. Richard Lamm would be forced to warn that "Denver is in danger of becoming an endless Los Angeles in the Rockies." Denver is one of three municipalities that serve as case studies in Gutfreund’s sobering analysis of transportation policy in the United States. Gutfreund is not the first to argue that Washington—guided by the auto industry, influential land developers and an anti-urban bias among policymakers—effectively subsidized sprawl and traffic congestion by promoting roads. But Gutfreund neatly traces the deep roots of these policies and the ways they destabilized cities while saddling state and local governments with huge bills for highway construction and maintenance. A useful companion to Crabgrass Frontiers, the landmark study of suburbia by Gutfreund’s Columbia University colleague, Kenneth T. Jackson, this book demonstrates that the problem of sprawl is national in scope, and not just confined to such Sunbelt boomtowns as Houston and Atlanta. (The other two communities discussed are Middlebury, Vt., and Smyrna, Tenn.) Gutfreund’s prose style is somewhat pedestrian and occasionally he gets repetitive. But he does a nice job of introducing readers to his three municipalities without getting bogged down in the details of road projects that only locals would recognize. Coming in an era when more and more communities are examining the costs of sprawl and questioning their dependence on the automobile, this book could not be timelier.
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.


"Twentieth-Century Sprawl demonstrates convincingly how the financing of highways became a de facto national policy that subsidized growth on the urban periphery at the expense of older cities and inner-ring suburbs. We are living with the consequences of this policy today. A compellingly important book."--David Schuyler, Professor of American Studies, Franklin and Marshall College, and author of A City Transformed: Redevelopment, Race, and Suburbanization in Lancaster, Pennsylvania 1940-1980

"A good primer on the road we took to the suburbanization of America--so that we don't drive it exactly the same way in the future."--Detroit Free Press

"In the first thorough history of urban sprawl, Owen Gutfreund reveals how misguided government programs, business lobbying, and civic boosterism led to America's radically decentralized urban landscape and shows the high social and financial costs of subsidizing automobility. Twentieth-Century Sprawl will appeal to historians, planners, and policy-makers--and anyone who wants to understand how we wound up in the traffic-clogged mess we're in."--Clifton Hood, Professor of History, Hobart and William Smith Colleges, and author of 722 Miles: The Building of the Subways and How They Transformed New York

"In examining three disparate sites--in Colorado, Tennessee, and Vermont--Owen Gutfreund convincingly argues that the impact of the automobile goes beyond individual preferences and local needs. Rather, he shows that automobility has been driven by government policies at all levels with profoundly disturbing consequences. Bound to fuel further criticism and debate, Gutfreund's study deserves close consideration in any future policy debate over the course of metropolitan development."--Howard Gillette, Jr., Professor of History, Rutgers University-Camden, and author of Between Justice and Beauty: Race, Planning, and the Failure of Urban Policy in Washington, D.C.

"In Twentieth-Century Sprawl, Owen Gutfreund challenges prevailing myths equating highway construction with equity and choice to show how competition over finances, route ways, and political authority gave rise to cross-sectoral coalitions among advocates from rural roads, inter-metropolitan parkways, and a national system of primary motorways. Through a carefully selected set of case studies the author links policy with practice and we come to see our contemporary urban landscape anew, as the product of specialized knowledge, narrow definitions of the public good, and a surprising degree of ad hoc planning."--Greg Hise, School of Policy, Planning and Development, USC

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Product Details

  • Paperback: 320 pages
  • Publisher: Oxford University Press; Reprint edition (October 6, 2005)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0195189078
  • ISBN-13: 978-0195189070
  • Product Dimensions: 9.1 x 0.9 x 6 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.2 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (6 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #1,601,118 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

By MattV on April 3, 2012
Format: Paperback
I'm currently researching for my undergraduate senior thesis on the Interstate Highway System. That being said, I found this text to be incredibly helpful in providing a background on my topic. The book itself is about the radical shift in the American Landscape following the development and sanctioning of the Interstate Highway System. The purpose of the book is to underline the delicate balance between economic development and loss of rural areas. The majority of the information used is from government records which displays the credibility of the source. The author himself is credible as an authority on the topic as an associate professor of Urban Planning at City University of New York, Hunter College. The book is about as current as it needs to be since it focuses on the twentieth century. It's certainly applicable and readable to many students because it stays about as interesting as a text on highway sprawl can be. The reading level is what one would expect from a college-level book.

Overall, I had a great experience with this book. The book was arranged in a way which quickly allowed for the intended, research use. I hope there are more books coming from this author!

Gutfreund, Owen D. 2005. 20th century sprawl: how highways transformed America. New York: Oxford University Press.
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Format: Paperback
This book delivers detailed, thorough insight into how federal and state highway policies affected cities of varied size and circumstance. Its excellent historical background reminds us why twenty-first century cities and their transportation are facing the challenges they are today.
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Format: Paperback
So many social and cultural ills can be connected to the role the car has played in American society. From millions of deaths and millions more serious injuries, to whole cities being torn apart by freeways to pollution and global warming. It is a devil's bargain we have eagerly and happily embraced. And it was planned.

That is the strength of Owen Gutreund's book, "20th-Century Sprawl." He makes it clear that it wasn't just the automobile companies that created the dystopian world we currently inhabit. Early on in the 20th century, there were auto enthusiasts, free road advocates and visionary bureaucrats who seized on the automobile as a way to remake America and boost the economy.

One of the most critical aspects of this zeal in favor of "automobility" as he calls it, was tax policy. On the one hand gas taxes and license fees were stipulated for use only to build highways. On the other hand, revenue was collected from sources that didn't involve the motorist or the industrial interests that favor them. However, that money was frequently earmarked for highway construction. Meanwhile, public transit got little government support and was typically for profit businesses that had the deck stake against them.

The book's opening chapters are its best, focused on these issues exclusively. The remainder of the book looks at three case studies, Denver Colorado, Middlebury Vermont and Smryna Tennessee. Mr. Gutfreund looks at how government aided and abetted autmobility at the expense of the greater society in three different types of environments. In the details of how these cities and towns grew and expanded their highway systems, the author loses track of how and way governments so favored highways and lost this reader in minutia. The many extraneous details make the connection murky.
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