• 304 pages
  • 7 x 10
  • 103 halftones, 12 maps
  • Price: $29.95
  • EAN: 9781439919187
  • Publication: Nov 2020
  • Price: $115.50
  • EAN: 9781439919170
  • Publication: Nov 2020
  • Price: $29.95
  • EAN: 9781439919194
  • Publication: Nov 2020

Modern Mobility Aloft

Elevated Highways, Architecture, and Urban Change in Pre-Interstate America

Amy D. Finstein
  • 2021 Fred B. Kniffen Book Award for the best book in the field of material culture, International Society for Landscape, Place, and Material Culture
  • Honorable Mention for the Kenneth Jackson Award for the best book in North American Urban History from the Urban History Association, 2021

In the first half of the twentieth century, urban elevated highways were much more than utilitarian infrastructure, lifting traffic above the streets; they were statements of civic pride, asserting boldly modern visions for a city’s architecture, economy, and transportation network. Yet three of the most ambitious projects, launched in Chicago, New York, and Boston in the spirit of utopian models by architects such as Le Corbusier and Hugh Ferriss, ultimately fell short of their ideals.

Modern Mobility Aloft is the first study to focus on pre-Interstate urban elevated highways within American architectural and urban history. Amy Finstein traces the idealistic roots of these superstructures, their contrasting realities once built, their impacts on successive development patterns, and the recent challenges they have posed to contemporary urban designers.

Filled with more than 100 historic photographs and illustrations of beaux arts and art deco architecture, Modern Mobility Aloft provides a critical understanding of urban landscapes, transportation, and technological change as cities moved into the modern era.


"Like the elevated railroads before them, elevated highways have generally been viewed in negative terms by urban dwellers. Yet the elevated highway represents an important, if not altogether welcome, phase in the daunting challenges to reconcile the demands of accommodating motor vehicles to city fabric on a large scale. Amy Finstein’s beautifully researched and written book examines the seminal early stages of implementing this complex and costly infrastructure in Chicago, New York, and Boston during the first half of the twentieth century. Modern Mobility Aloft is an important analysis of the visionary schemes first devised to address the issue and the myriad factors involved in conceiving and implementing actual projects. Economic considerations, local politics, architectural design values, and changes in building and transportation technology are all addressed in a seamless, engaging narrative.
Richard Longstreth, Professor of American Studies Emeritus, George Washington University

“In Modern Mobility Aloft, Finstein looks deeply at the historical intersection of civil engineering, technology, and urbanism and comes up with a major topic that no one has seen before. She is exactly right in her assertion that the elevated highway as a specific mode of technological response to the problem of automobile congestion has not been treated systematically. More importantly, she sees the connection between the elevated highway and elements of modernist urbanism and culture. Her extensive, original archival work and case studies of downtown congestion and early highway design point to a new integration of the history of technology and urban history.
Robert Fishman, Professor of Architecture and Urban Planning, Taubman College, University of Michigan

"This handsomely produced, well-written book is about how three cities—New York, Chicago, and Boston—used elevated roadways well into the 20th century to alleviate the growing crush of traffic on surface roadways. Finstein chronicles the reconciliation of competing interests of political, engineering, and architectural remedies in the solutions offered and in what was either not built, built and later rebuilt, or demolished. Notable is Finstein's attention to issues of architectural style in projects thought of as mere engineering.... Well-illustrated with charts, plans, and photos, and supported by lots of endnotes and bibliographic information, this is an important scholarly resource. Summing Up: Recommended."— Choice

"Modern Mobility Aloft focuses on the aesthetics of the structures, the design decisions that went into these highways, and their legacies.... (It is a) strong design-oriented history of elevated highways."—Technology and Culture

"Finstein develops a clear and detailed narrative of the history and design of the three elevated highway projects, and presents an impressive amount of information, including numerous images, collected through extensive archival research. This makes the book an enjoyable read…. (T)he book offers important and relevant insights for urban planning and design professionals."—Journal of Planning History

About the Author(s)

Amy D. Finstein is an Assistant Professor in the Department of Visual Arts at College of the Holy Cross in Worcester, MA.

In the Series

Urban Life, Landscape, and Policy

The Urban Life, Landscape, and Policy series, edited by David Stradling, Larry Bennett, Davarian Baldwin, and Yue Zhang, was founded by the late Zane L. Miller to publish books that examine past and contemporary cities. While preserving the series’ foundational focus on the policy, planning, and environmental issues so central to metropolitan life, we also join scholarly efforts to push the boundaries of urban studies. We are committed to publishing work at the shifting intersections of cultural production, community formation, and political economy that shape cities at all scales, from the neighborhood to the transnational. Proposals may be submitted to Temple University Press Editor-in-Chief Aaron Javsicas or the series editors at the email addresses linked above. 

In honor of Zane Miller, the late founding editor of our series, Urban Life, Landscape, and Policy, we invite first-time authors to apply for a grant of up to $2,500 to help advance the careers of scholars from underrepresented communities with limited financial resources.  For more information, Zane L. Miller Book Development Award