Crawl and sprawltoo much traffic and spreading developmentdefined American cities at the end of the 20th century. Local and state governments faced choices about land use and highway and transit construction, balancing costs of new roads and the loss of unspoiled land with the demand for housing and economic development. Families had to balance housing costs and convenience with time spent sitting in traffic while commuting and running errands. The automobile shaped daily life in ways that neither its inventors nor the designers of interstate highways imagined.
Traffic congestion on I-10, Houston, Texas, 2001
Gulfgate Shopping Center and residential development along I-45, Houston, Texas, about 1960
Interstates opened up new land for development. Traditional patterns of commuting changed as offices, factories, and stores moved to the suburbs. Highways (designed for intercity traffic) and beltways (designed to let traffic bypass the city) became commuter corridors, jammed with workers driving from suburb to suburb. Suburban roads were even crowded on weekends, as families ran errands in their cars.
Dodge Caravan, 1986
At the end of the 20th century, minivans became a symbol of suburbia. The first minivansthe Dodge Caravan and Plymouth Voyagerwere introduced in 1983, after six years in development. These downsized vans were bigger than station wagons, but still had some of the comforts of the automobile.
Irvine, California, 1992
The 2000 census found more Americans in the suburbs than in cities. And once-compact cities now extended for miles, as housing developments and office and retail complexes replaced farms and enveloped small towns.