The Automobile and the Environment in American History

by Martin V. Melosi

Suburbanization and the Automobile

Beside the various impacts on core cities, the automobile has had a great influence on extending the boundaries of urban areas on a scale and pace not experienced before. Fairly or unfairly, sprawl became synonymous with the automobile. While transportation of all types has had a major role in extending city borders, the automobile extended them much further and more randomly. American cities and suburbs became utterly dependent on the car for work, shopping, obtaining services, and recreation. In this setting, places of living, working, and shopping are disconnected—except for their common links to roads and highways.

Suburban communities themselves underwent physical changes with the introduction of the automobile. The new highways, delivery of electricity, and other technologies made it practical for developers to build new subdivisions far from metropolitan centers. Newer suburban communities also were designed for automobiles, not pedestrians, with drive-in markets, movies, and even churches. Retail establishments, office buildings, and numerous industries migrated to the suburbs from the core cities. The shopping mall, in particular, represented the clearest commitment to automobile traffic in the urban periphery.

Even suburban houses showed the imprint of the automobile as early as the turn of the century. The garage, especially, became an essential feature like the kitchen or the living room. Whether a house had a garage or a carport, with or without a long driveway, the automobile was built into the design of many homes and into the culture of the families who owned them.

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Environmental Cost of the Automobile Production Process
Energy Use and the Internal Combustion Engine
Auto Emissions and Air Pollution
Noise, Visual Pollution, and Derelict Cars
The Automobile's Imprint on the Landscape
Suburbanization and the Automobile

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