by Laurence Aurbach • January 2020
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Roadway networks are the basic frameworks of cities. They endure for centuries, influencing the ways that cities operate and their residents’ quality of life. A History of Street Networks explores the origins and institutionalization of modern roadway networks, particularly the networks of urban sprawl. The book surveys an international history of these powerful yet unheralded infrastructure systems.
It is a story of far-reaching reform, as dreamers, designers, engineers, and business interests sought to remold urban environments into new and radically different patterns. Traffic separation—the separation of different types of traffic from each other—was a key motive of their city-planning and traffic-engineering efforts. The traffic-separation idea is traced from its international emergence during the Industrial Revolution, to its codification in urban sprawl, to the countermovement of neotraditionalism.
More than one hundred individuals, visions, built projects, and policies are examined, representing the most important efforts to make and control roadway patterns. Comprehensive, detailed, and abundantly illustrated, A History of Street Networks is a valuable resource for anyone wanting to understand some of the major forces that have shaped, and continue to shape, urban environments.
"Overall, A History of Street Networks is authoritative, thoroughly researched, with copious endnotes of value to the scholar; and richly illustrated, with images from archives and rare collections, as well as original graphic interpretations, such as the fascinating and prescient grid layout of Étienne Cabet’s utopian city of Icara. As such the book should be of interest to a spectrum of built environment professionals including architects, urban planners, transport planners and engineers, as well as those more generally interested in urban history."
-- Stephen Marshall, author of Streets and Patterns (2005) and professor of urban morphology and urban design at University College London
“Laurence Aurbach provides us with a detailed, informative and beautifully illustrated guide to the evolution of street networks as attempts to separate different types of traffic: fast from slow, business from pleasure, pedestrians from vehicles. He reveals standard urban forms, from viaducts and arcades to freeways and elevated railways, as different responses to this need to separate traffic. A well-written and generously illustrated volume. It is a tour de force providing a fresh perspective with the basic hallmark of a classic; making us see the underlying structure behind the taken-for-granted.”
-- John Rennie Short, author of The Unequal City (2018) and professor of public policy at University of Maryland Baltimore County
"Laurence Aurbach’s book is so much more than what its title suggests. You quickly realize that the history of street networks is the tip of the iceberg. This book is really about the historical thinking that led to our modern roadways as well as network patterns. So while it was riveting to stroll down this historical path -- especially with all the amazing accompanying images -- the real value of this book emerges when you begin to see the cyclical patterns of the mistakes we’ve made in the past, and that our new transportation technologies are enticing us to make the same ones again. If you care about the future of streets, cities, and the people living in those cities, this book will unquestionably help the cause."
-- Wes Marshall, PhD, PE, professor of civil engineering at University of Colorado Denver
"Laurence Aurbach has written an excellent history that literally illustrates the creation of the autocentric street network. Olmsted's parkways, garden cities, the Radburn superblock, Le Corbusier’s visions, and the 1956 Federal Highway Act are interspersed with the utopian schemes of Hugh Ferriss, Norman Bel Geddes, and Futurama to tell the story of the massive investment that produced traffic separation. The inevitable congestion that marred the promise of free-flowing traffic sparked a call to reform, and new urbanism and smart growth were the logical responses. While shifts to livable roadway environments have occurred, the fundamental conflict between traffic and sustainability will only intensify. Fortunately, Aurbach has plotted a path that meshes historical logic and innovative urbanism in the quest to secure a livable future."
-- R. Bruce Stephenson, author of Portland's Good Life: Sustainability and Hope in an American City (2021) and professor of sustainable urbanism at Rollins College, Winter Park, Florida
"A History of Street Networks is a masterpiece. Staggeringly well written, comprehensive, flawless in its intelligence."
-- Andrés Duany, principal of DPZ CoDesign and co-founder of the Congress for the New Urbanism
Book review: Stephen Marshall, "Roadway Network Development from the Utopian to the Functional," Built Environment, vol. 47, no. 1 (Spring 2021), pp. 136-136.
Webinar: Congress for the New Urbanism Author's Forum on A History of Street Networks (13 April 2021). The video includes a 20-minute presentation by the author (starts at 26:30) and a panel discussion with the engineers Paul Crabtree, Norman Garrick, and Rick Hall, and the urban designers Andrés Duany and Douglas Duany.
Listed in the Society of Architectural Historians' Booklist and Reader’s Advisory, March 2020