The Automobile: Revving Up Car Culture in the 1950s

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As James Flink points out in The Automobile Age, the village store and the local banks were the businesses most vulnerable to the new competition (47). Robert E. Wood, former vice president of Sears, explains how businesses moved to the suburbs, "When the automobile reached the masses, it changed this condition [the funneling of consumers into the town centre] and made shopping mobile. In the great cities Sears located its stores well outside the main shopping districts, on cheap land, usually on arterial highways, with ample parking space (Wollen 13)." Thus city centers came to be seen as sites of congestion, whereas the surrounding areas were regarded as accessible and convenient. The rapid proliferation of shopping complexes outside of the city center in the 1950s left down town a crime-ridden wasteland of vacated stores. City centers no longer featured traditional shops; instead they contained gas stations, parking lots, and inns whose focus was on the travelers and their cars (Wollen 13).
Car culture had caused some serious headaches for city planners in the 1950s. They had not anticipated the added traffic when building cities and were forced to adjust their plans with mixed results. There were many side effects to the restructuring of the city, and most were not good for the city center. Business and customers were no longer funneled into the now crowded city center in favor of the more spacious and convenient periphery. Community life as well as business in the city center really suffered as a result of suburbanization caused by the car. Jane Jacobs says in her chapter called "Erosion of Cities or Attrition of Automobiles" in the book Autopia, "Today everyone who values cities is disturbed by automobiles (259...

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...eedom to explore America's new interstate highways. While the car offered many benefits, there were plenty of downsides as far as the city was concerned. As suburbanization took hold of the middle class, the city tried to accommodate to the millions of new cars on the road. Streets were widened, sidewalks narrowed, and the city center became crowded, congested, and perceived as unclean. The downsides of car culture did nothing to dwindle the massive influence it had on the popular culture of the time. Rock and roll became closely linked to the emerging car culture of the 50s due to their shared attitudes of freedom, easy going fun, and life in the fast lane. The car culture of the 1950s has impacted every aspect of the lives of the American people including the media they consume, the places they live, the music they listen to, and of course, the cars they drive.
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