The Shifting of Ideals: Cities of the Future Propelled by Car Culture

As cars pushed their way up to prominence, pushing pedestrians to the side, the idea of a city began to shift.

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Perhaps one of the greatest innovations in human history is the city. Humans are social species, and the concept of living together in a vast, built-up urban environment has never been more relevant than in the ever-urbanizing world we find ourselves living in. But with this increasing urbanization comes opposing forces, and throughout much of the twentieth century, that opposing force was another human invention: the automobile.

New York City in the 1900s, a time when pedestrians, not cars, dominated the streets.
Harvey Wiley Corbett’s “City of the Future” concept (1913).
Edgar Chambless’s “Roadtown” concept, which would have functioned as one long, indoor city.
The 1939 Futurama exhibit, which depicted the future city as a massive, freeway-oriented space, connected by a complex of pedestrian bridges.
A ‘city of the future’ depicted in Disney’s “Magic Highway, U.S.A.”, which envisioned massive highways a la the Futurama Exhibit, but being used by rocket-powered cars.
Aerial view of the massive Summit at Danbury complex, where workers park their cars right next to their offices inside. The complex is a partial realization of Chambless’s Roadtown concept.
Scrapped Los Angeles streetcars following the privatization of the lines.
San Francisco waterway before and after the Embarcadero Freeway’s removal.
Downtown Boston before and after the ‘Big Dig’.
  1. Brown, H. B. “The Status of the Automobile.” The Yale Law Journal, vol. 17, no. 4, The Yale Law Journal Company, Inc., 1908, pp. 223–31, https://doi.org/10.2307/784433.
  2. Corbett, Harvey Wiley. City of the Future. 1913.
  3. Disney, Walt. Disneyland. Magic Highway U.S.A., Disney, 1957.
  4. Flink, James J. “Three Stages of American Automobile Consciousness.” American Quarterly, vol. 24, no. 4, Johns Hopkins University Press, 1972, pp. 451–73, https://doi.org/10.2307/2711684.
  5. Geddes, Norman Bel. Magic Motorways. Random House, 1940.
  6. Henricks, Mark. “The GM Trolley Conspiracy: What Really Happened.” CBS News, CBS Interactive, 2 Sept. 2010, https://www.cbsnews.com/news/the-gm-trolley-conspiracy-what-really-happened/.
  7. Mansfield, Howard. “Motopia.” Cosmopolis: Yesterday’s Cities of the Future, Center For Urban Policy Research, New Brunswick, 1990, pp. 106–123.
  8. Marchand, Roland. “The Designers Go to the Fair II: Norman Bel Geddes, The General Motors ‘Futurama,’ and the Visit to the Factory Transformed.” Design Issues, vol. 8, no. 2, The MIT Press, 1992, pp. 23–40, https://doi.org/10.2307/1511638.
  9. “A New Profession: It Is Traffic Control Engineering.” The Science News-Letter, vol. 35, no. 24, [Wiley, Society for Science & the Public], 1939, pp. 374–75, https://doi.org/10.2307/3915394.

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Chris K

Chris K

Native New Yorker. Pizza, Sports, Games, Life. Writing about whatever my heart desires. Follow me here and on Twitter for more articles!