Lewis Mumford and Norman Bel Geddes: the highway, the city and the future
Lewis Mumford's life spanned the era in which American cities were rebuilt for the automobile and his writings addressed that theme from the 1920s to the 1970s. Norman Bel Geddes achieved fame during the 1930s for his imaginative evocations of future urban and regional landscapes designed for high-speed auto travel, culminating in the Futurama exhibit at the 1939 World's Fair. Both of these men were influential figures during the period (1935-45) when the basic contours of American urban highway policy were codified. Mumford advocated a careful integration of street, highway and landscape in order to tame the destructive impacts of the automobile. By the 1950s he had become a fervent opponent of both central city freeway building and auto-dependent suburban sprawl. Norman Bel Geddes embraced the emerging world of automobiles and freeways, and poured his energies into the creation of exhibits, models, plans and books showing how high-speed motorways could shape a new metropolis. This paper compares these two men along multiple dimensions and argues that the contrasting styles of Mumford and Bel Geddes embody a recurring split in the American attitude toward cities and urban planning.