Route 66 in Past, Present and Future

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Prahl, Sigrun
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In a beginning urban planning class we worked on the following questions: How did the interstate system around the cities change the main streets of the historic cities and towns? What kind of buildings/uses emerged around the highway? Did that take away from the old center or did it add to it? Was it positive or negative? As a large example we took the towns and cities along Route 66. Besides the landscape, cities, towns and main streets of Route 66 students also described how certain features changed the main streets of the historic cities and towns and their landscape. The features were: Attractions, entertainment; Roadside architecture and signs; Gas stations; Motels; Food, restaurants, drive-ins; Music and art. Students found out that at its inception in 1926, Route 66 was intended to include the main streets of rural America. In the beginning, it was an optimistic road, full of hope, that introduced an access to the west, and was known as "The Mother Road" and "The Main Street of America." Food, gas, and lodging were the most important features on the route, but the added attractions made the adventure of the route feasible and also interesting and exciting. Along Route 66 there were signs and architecture that were as adventurous visually as the road was to travel. The purpose for the man made attractions was to welcome, accommodate, and entertain travelers and tourists. Often the signs were visually more attractive and more important than the building itself. The characteristic style of large size, bright colors, and flashy lights of the signs along Route 66 responded directly to the moving automobile and nomadic lifestyle. Now, Route 66 can no longer be traveled exclusively from beginning to end. In its span from Illinois to California, it is intertwined with a series of interstate super highways, a system that has taken over the traffic, the gas, food and lodging services. Route 66 has become a fragmented road, yet remains complete in memories and paraphernalia preserved in museums and souvenir shops. Its legacy has been continued in pop-culture, television shows, music and iconography. Today towns capitalize on the tourism industry that draws people to see the old sites of the route. Therefore Route 66 has become more like a theme park or an attraction rather than a common traveling experience. It seems like the days of enjoying traveling across the country in the car are almost over, or they are a luxury, and getting to the destination as quickly as possible now becomes more essential. On the other hand one thing that makes Route 66 so unique is the way the road in itself has become a destination. This is almost ironic in that traveling a highway has become a vacation destination for some people rather than having a place as a final location with the journey being the destination.
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