Cover image for Downtown : its rise and fall, 1880-1950
Downtown : its rise and fall, 1880-1950
Fogelson, Robert M.
Personal Author:
Publication Information:
New Haven : Yale University Press, [2001]

Physical Description:
x, 492 pages : illustrations ; 24 cm
Format :


Call Number
Material Type
Home Location
Item Holds
HT123 .F64 2001 Adult Non-Fiction Non-Fiction Area
HT123 .F64 2001 Adult Non-Fiction Non-Fiction Area

On Order



Downtown is the first history of what was once viewed as the heart of the American city. Urban historian Robert Fogelson gives a riveting account of how downtown--and the way Americans thought about it--changed between 1880 and 1950. Recreating battles over subways and skyscrapers, the introduction of elevated highways and parking bans, and other controversies, this book provides a new and often starling perspective on downtown's rise and fall.

Author Notes

Robert M. Fogelson is professor of urban studies and history at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology.

(Bowker Author Biography)

Reviews 4

Booklist Review

Most U.S. cities have a downtown, historically the business, commercial, and entertainment hub of a city, to which many flock each day to work, shop, and play. In the words of the pop song, "the lights are much brighter there," where "you can forget all your troubles, forget all your care." Recently, downtown has been forgotten, but is the decline of downtown areas really a recent phenomenon? Fogelson--long interested in how downtowns have been shaped and have attracted people, businesses, traffic, and crime--argues that they have been doomed from the beginning of their existence. The American phenomenon of suburban sprawl has been occurring since American cities were founded. The decline of downtown areas was actually completed in the 1950s, though they have begun to reemerge once again as centers of activity. Projecting his enthusiasm for the subject in this very well researched history of America's downtown experience, Fogelson creates extremely engaging reading for those interested in the history of cities and urban experience. --Michael Spinella

Publisher's Weekly Review

The history and ever-changing status of "downtown" in the United States is far more complicated than Petula Clark's hit single ever let on. From the late 19th century, American cities were built and structured around the notion of "downtown" a specific area dedicated to business, entertainment and cultural activity. But economies changed, residences began to move further from the city center and the loci of urban experience shifted. Fogelson (The Fragmented Metropolis), an MIT professor of urban studies and history, delves beneath these surface phenomena to recover the huge forces at play. His comprehensive, superlative study charts fights over public transportation (subways could take people away from the center as well as bring them there); the devastating effects of the depression and of World War II; and the "invention" of the concept of urban blight, promoted as a precursor to "redevelopment." Exceedingly provocative as well as informative, this study explores everything from the availability of light and air in the age of the elevated to the "parking ban" of downtown Chicago, and makes a vital contribution to the study of American life. (Oct.) Forecast: While extensively footnoted, this book reads like an extremely thoughtful trade book. If hand-sold to history and city buffs, it could reach beyond the academic market of libraries and syllabi, where it should be a steady seller. (c) Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved

Library Journal Review

One of the nation's leading urban historians, Fogelson (urban studies, MIT; The Fragmented Metropolis: Los Angeles, 1850-1930) examines the history of the American city center, from a position of business and commercial dominance in 1880 to one of obsolescence in the mid-20th century. Drawing on his comprehensive research, Fogelson presents a detailed portrayal of downtown's fragmented reaction to residential dispersal, the decentralization of business, traffic congestion, the Depression, and want of vision by downtown's leaders and advocates. He tracks controversial and conflicting public policy debates over rapid transit systems, limited building heights, zoning, traffic regulations, and public parking, which highlight uncoordinated and shortsighted attempts to reshape a once-dominant central city. Fogelson concludes with the perceptive and perhaps rueful observation that downtown's decline in the first half of the 20th century was mostly the result of an American vision of "bourgeois utopia," a nation of suburbs, which brought the beginning of urban sprawl. A superbly thorough analysis of the causes of inner-city blight, congestion, and economic decline in mid-20th century urban America, this is essential reading for American historians and an excellent addition to academic and urban libraries. John E. Hodgkins, Yarmouth, ME (c) Copyright 2010. Library Journals LLC, a wholly owned subsidiary of Media Source, Inc. No redistribution permitted.

Choice Review

A major contribution to urban history and planning, this book provides a sweeping, insightful overview of the evolution of the big-city central business district (CBD). The breadth of his topic forces Fogelson (history, MIT) to terminate his study in 1950, but one hopes for a second volume to bring this survey into the 21st century. The work is divided into eight chapters that unfold chronologically. The first three treat the assembling of downtown by focusing on the nascent CBD of the 1880s and 1890s, the politics of mass transit development, and the battle over building heights. Chapter 4 covers the CBD at its height during the 1920s; the next three chapters trace its slow decline through mid-century as the forces of economic depression, automobile-induced decentralization, and central-city blight made their impacts. The brief final chapter and epilogue assess downtown in the 1950s and its prospects for survival. A 75-page notes section offers a superb guide to the literature. The number of photos is adequate, but the lack of maps and diagrams is a shortcoming. Highly recommended for urban studies collections at all levels. P. O. Muller University of Miami