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July 1998 Issue
The Geographical Review
July 1998, Vol. 88 (3), pp. 363-387
AMERICAN ROAD, ROADSIDE AMERICA
Federal support for planning and building roads provided an opportunity to create a
new kind of place, the American roadside. The roadside grew up beside the public road
as a distinct private space, yet the two were linked as road travelers came to depend
on the services provided by people who lived at the road's edge. Federal road-improvement
legislation brought discipline to the surveying, construction, and configuration of roads.
But roadside structures remained largely the creation of local people, who built a
vernacular landscape that was undisciplined and in strong contrast to the road's regimentation.
The roadside became a new kind of space occupying the unstable zone between the discipline
of the road and the informality of the countryside, a spatial contradiction that gave license
to a new, free-wheeling, mercantile logic, an improvisational departure from the staid formality
of Main Street.
Keywords: automobile, liminal space, mass consumption, mobility, representation