At present, I am reading a book about how the ‘motor city’ emerged as the dominant North American standard. It is quite interesting, really. The fact that automobile promoters played a role in the demise of streetcars is well known. What seems to be less well known is how the very idea of urban streets was contested and ultimately redefined in the period between 1920 and 1930. At the beginning of that span, automobiles were seem as a deadly and dangerous new element in street life: particularly effective at killing children. Now, thanks to school safety campaigns devised during the transformative period, automobiles are recognized as the road-going default: the normal thing to find on urban streets.
Only 20% into the book, I cannot comment on it comprehensively. Still, I have the sense that the next such conflict may be between fossil fuel automobiles and greener options – particularly cyclists and transit.
Our personal experiences often leave us incapable of glimpsing the assumptions that underlie the way we live. Good historical writing gives one a sense of how things were seen before. So far, this book has been accomplishing that task well.