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The Better Country: 05/26/17

The Better Country  by Dallas Lore Sharp

The Better Country by Dallas Lore Sharp was listed as a source in The American Highway by William Kaszynski. In trying to track down primary sources for my road narrative project, I found a copy via Google Books.

Sharp's book is primarily an urban planning / urban renewal manifesto. A huge shift in the American city began near the end of the nineteenth century. Railroads had connected the major metropolises and provided easier access for the rural points in between. Besides the rail running between cities, the largest ones also built intracity rail as elevated rail, trollies (either horse or electric), and subways. The interplay between the inter- and intra-city rail started the push out from city center, giving workers more opportunities to live and work at farther distances than before where the distance one could either walk and ride a horse was the limit.

But it was personal transportation that ultimately forced the restructuring of the city. While the largest lasting effect has been the automobile, it was the bicycle that got things rolling, as it were. Bicycles in the early days before better shocks and breaks, required smooth roads. With such high demands (in part from the temperance and clean living movements), these new macadam or cement roads also needed to be wider.

Widening roads means taking away from the city footprint. It means eminent domain. And with eminent domain comes the temptation to gentrify in the name of urban planning / urban renewal.

That is where The Better Country comes into play. Sharp's thesis is decidedly anti-poor, anti-immigrant and pro-gentrification pro-suburbia. Sharp describes pushing the city out into the countryside to force smaller population numbers inside city bounds to improve the flow of traffic in and around the city.

In terms of my project, though, urban planning, a bit too tangential to be of much use. It is good to see the discourse that helped rationalize the massive building of suburbs in the post WWII era.

Two stars

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