Its Rise and Fall, 1880–1950

Robert M. Fogelson

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Written by one of this country’s foremost urban historians, Downtown is the first history of what was once viewed as the heart of the American city. It tells the fascinating story of how downtown—and the way Americans thought about downtown—changed over time. By showing how businessmen and property owners worked to promote the well-being of downtown, even at the expense of other parts of the city, it also gives a riveting account of spatial politics in urban America.
Drawing on a wide array of contemporary sources, Robert M. Fogelson brings downtown to life, first as the business district, then as the central business district, and finally as just another business district. His book vividly recreates the long-forgotten battles over subways and skyscrapers in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. And it provides a fresh, often startling perspective on elevated highways, parking bans, urban redevelopment, and other controversial issues. This groundbreaking book will be a revelation to scholars, city planners, policymakers, and general readers interested in American cities and American history.

Robert M. Fogelson is professor of urban studies and history at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and author of The Fragmented Metropolis: Los Angeles, 1850–1930, Big-City Police, America’s Armories: Architecture, Society, and Public Order, and other important books about urban America.

“A superb book that offers an insightful, engaging, and informative account of a subject that is key to our understanding of the American city, yet has long been treated in little more than a cursory manner.”—Richard Longstreth, George Washington University

“Downtown was American urbanism’s most magnificent achievement, and here at last is a history worthy of it. Fogelson goes beyond nostalgia to analyze downtown as a continuing political, economic, and cultural struggle to create a vital center in a society otherwise dedicated to dispersion and fragmentation. Comprehensive in scope and brilliantly researched, this book is now central to the interpretation of American urban history. It is also a vital resource in today’s struggles to restore the American downtown to a central place in the new American region.”—Robert Fishman, A. Alfred Taubman College of Architecture and Planning, The University of Michigan, Ann Arbor

“[A] very good book about the downtowns of big cities such as New York, Boston, Philadelphia, Chicago, St. Louis, and—yes—Los Angeles. Fogelson’s book is a history of public policy and planning drawn from the published record. . . . His downtown perspective offers new ways to think about such standard urban history topics as transportation policy, land use planning, the rise of the skyscraper, housing reform, and urban redevelopment. . . . Fogelson has filled a gap in American urban history with a carefully wrought book that specialists on urban development will want on their shelves.”—Carl Abbott, American Historical Review

“Projecting his enthusiasm for the subject in the 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, Booklist

“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. . . . Highly recommended for urban studies collections at all levels.”—Choice

“Anyone who has a hand in shaping New York’s future should read Robert Fogelson’s meticulously researched Downtown.”Keith Kloor, City Limits

“[A] thoughtful, admirably researched study. . . . Fogelson writes in a polished, accessible style that should engage the lay reader.”—Phillip Lopate, Doubletake

"[A] masterful and groundbreaking history of the classic American business district."—Stephanie Dyer, Enterprise & Society

“An enlightened and thorough analysis of the economic, technological, and cultural forces that created downtown districts in America’s cities in the second half of the nineteenth century and then began undermining them in the 1920s. . . . This is a valuable book, written for the general reader as well as for planners and historians. It is a sad, tragic story told very well by an observant scholar.”—History: Reviews of New Books

"An indispensable compendium of information and insight about the dynamics of big city development and decline."—William Issel, Journal of American History

“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.”—Library Journal

"[Downtown] is an impressive work of research and synthesis, and it will undoubtedly help to rewrite the story of American cities in the first half of the twentieth century. . . . It is a shame that we do not have Robert Fogelson as our guide to Downtown: 1950 to 2000, but we can be thankful for the remarkable synthesis he has given us of urban America in the first half of the twentieth century."—Max Page, New England Quarterly

“[A] comprehensive, superlative study. . . . 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.”—Publishers Weekly

“[A] well-written synthesis. . . . Downtown is a superb overview of this important subject.”—Mark S. Foster, Urban Studies

"Fogelson, one of America’s premier historians, tackles the history of our urban centers and helps explain why their fortunes began to fade almost as soon as they were constructed."—Washington Post Book World  listed in the "Washington is Also Reading . . . Selling Well in Local Independent Bookstores" section

"A study as thorough as it is refreshingly unstuffy."—Jennifer Howard, Washington Post Book World

“[A] thorough and accomplished history. . . . [Fogelson’s] understanding of the inchoate muddle of factors that made and unmade downtown is sophisticated and far-reaching, and his ability to clarify and illuminate that history admirable and timely.”—Samuel Zipp, Washington Post Book World

“[A] stimulating new history of a long-neglected subject. . . . [It] approaches the subject dispassionately and meticulously, and in the process punctures a few myths.”—Witold Rybczynski, Wilson Quarterly

Winner of the 2001 Lewis Mumford Prize for Best Book in American City and Regional History given by the
Society of American City and Regional Planning History

Winner of the Urban History Association Prize for Best Book in North American Urban History
ISBN: 9780300090628
Publication Date: September 10, 2001
492 pages, 6 1/8 x 9 1/4
40 b/w illus.
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