Tuesday, February 8, 2011

Views of Detroit

Copenhagenize did another great post showing cool views of an earlier Detroit, as part of his review of this book, Fighting Traffic - The Dawn of the Motor Age in the American City by Norton, published by MIT Press.  The above photo shows the corner of Woodward and Monroe, Detroit in 1917. 

Mikael writes:

 I've continued reading the excellent Fighting Traffic - The Dawn of the Motor Age in the American City by Peter D. Norton. It's a digestive book. I find myself reading a few pages at a time and then putting it down, finding it necessary to reflect.
Norton has divided it up into three parts and the first part deals with the way automobiles were regarded in the public eye between 1900 and up through the 1920's. To put it mildly, automobile traffic was not popular.
Almost a century on it seems that certain myths persist. That apart from some growing pains at the beginning, cars were always just a given in cities. I've been quite amazed to learn how massive the resistance to them was. Norton writes about the 'street' and the perception of what the street was for.
The public at the time regarded the street much in the same way as people had since cities were first formed. It was a space for people. A place to walk, a place to play, a place to alight from a streetcar. Cars were regarded as violent intruders in this common space.
The challenge of Motordom, as it was called, was quite simple. It was a question of re-branding the street as a place for cars and the whole marketing angle was instrumental in achieving this goal. Amazingly, at the end of the day it was down to clever marketing and spin to change 7000-odd years of percieving the street as a place for people, not machines.
But first, the resistance. Norton highlights in the first part the massive public uprising against the automobile. The carnage caused by cars and trucks was enormous.
"In the first four years after Armistice Day more Americans were killed in automobile accidents than had died in battle in France. This fact was widely publicized and the news was greeted with shock."
It says a lot about the victory of Motordom in changing the mindset that the current annual toll of 40,000 deaths in the US - not to mention the injured - doesn't even register in the public consciousness.

"... before the mid 1920's, cities were not at fault for failing to provide safe accommodation for motorists. To frightened parents and pedestrians the problem was far simpler: they blamed automobiles and their drivers, regardless of the circumstances. City people were angry. Their anger is shown in mob attacks on reckless motorists, and in newspapers that played up automobile accident stories when the victim was easy to represent as innocent (a child, a young woman, an old person), the victim of an unambiguous 'villain' (the motorist (...) the 'speed maniac', the fleeing criminal, the drunk)."
...and there's much more on this topic at Copenhagenize. 

I, like many assumed that the car was universally embraced! 

It's a bit of an odd thing to be looking at photos of Detroit via a blogger in Copenhagen, Denmark but it speaks to the power of the Internet and connectedness, that we can learn from each other, no matter what the distance.


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