A Short History of the Idea of ‘Main Street’ in America

In the United States, Main Street has always been two things—a place and an idea. As both, Main Street has embodied the contradictions of the country itself. It is the self-consciousness of the idea of Main Street—from its origins in a Nathaniel Hawthorne sketch of New England, to Walt Disney’s construction of a Main Street USA, to the establishment of ersatz Main Streets in today’s urban malls—that makes it so essentially American. Main Street has been used in myriad ways to describe very many different things—from the crushing power of convention to the thrill of new entertainment, from the small town to new big city neighborhoods. Main Street’s meaning could change quickly. In the 1920s, to invoke Main Street was to call up an image of the dullness of provincial life. By the 1930s, Main Street represented the bedrock of America’s embattled democracy. For decades, Main Street stood for the local; today it’s an importable model of planning and development … Continue reading A Short History of the Idea of ‘Main Street’ in America