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America on the Move
Collection Exhibition Themes
Transportation in America before 1876 Community Dreams: Santa Cruz, California, 1876 Delivering the Goods: Watsonville, California, 1895 A Streetcar City: Washington, D.C., 1900 Suburban Strip: Sandy Boulevard, Portland, Oregon, 1949 On the School Bus: Martinsburg, Indiana, 1939 People on the Move The Connected City: New York, New York, 1920s Crossing the Country: Somewhere in Wyoming, 1903 Americans Adopt the Auto Lives on the Railroad: Salisbury, North Carolina, 1927 The People's Highway: Route 66, 1930s-1940s Roadside Communities: Ring's Rest, Muirkirk, Maryland, 1930s Family Camping: York Beach, Maine, 1930s On the Interstate: I-10, 1956-1990 Transforming the Waterfront: San Francisco and Oakland, California, 1960-1970 Going Global: Los Angeles Introduction The Automobile Shapes the Suburbs Moving In The Automobile and the City Chicago's L Taking the Bus O'Hare International Airport
City and Suburb

Chicago and Park Forest, Illinois, 1950s

Visit Park Forest, Illinois, a new suburb of Chicago, where every day is moving day. A station wagon and moving boxes sit in front of a new house and the new kids on the block are being approached by one of their young neighbors. A TV blares, a 1950s car ad, TV shows set in the surburbs, and a documentary about Park Forest.

Then go to Chicago and ride a Chicago Transit Authority L train around the Loop, Chicago’s downtown business district. It’s a winter morning in 1959, and people are taking their daily commute to work. Take a look at a city bus, and listen to the driver.

View from the exhibition
View from the exhibition

The Sprawling Metropolis

A rapidly growing dependence on the car helped reshape life in American cities and suburbs after World War II. It created the suburban landscapes and culture that have come to dominate much of contemporary American life. Owning a car made it easier for white middle- and working-class families to move to sprawling new suburbs. Local and national transportation policy often encouraged suburbanization, to the detriment of older cities.

By the 1950s, growing traffic problems and rapid suburbanization threatened the future of Chicago’s central business district. In response, city officials implemented a series of transportation projects designed to encourage downtown development. Instead, the “improvements” encouraged people and businesses to move out of the city. Park Forest, one of the suburbs that attracted Chicago residents, was a planned development where the landscape and the rhythm of daily life revolved around the family car.

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