In the mid-20th century, Americans restructured their lives around automobiles. Cars assumed a central role in everything from the national economy to the routines of daily life. But the costs of car culture have been steep. Crashes and pollution have taken a toll on human bodies, highway construction and zoning changes have reshaped our landscape, and industry marketing has shifted individuals' perceptions of their fundamental needs, wants, and rights. The automobile in the U.S. is both a symbol of freedom and modernization, and the engine of a system that encourages dependency, threatens public health, and resists change.
Car culture is so pervasive that many people take it for granted as the natural order of American life. But by revealing the political, industry, and consumer decisions that have brought us to this point, history can serve as our “blind spot detection,” equipping us to envision new possibilities for the future.