The Architecture of Mobility: Outdoor Advertising and the Birth of the Strip



During the automobility boom of the 1920s, the billboard industry came to re-evaluate its assumptions about the distribution of audiences and the best placement of advertising. With the widespread use of cars, the market was no longer confined by geographic, political, or even business-district boundaries. The market now moved. Mobile audiences expanded outward from the compact urban market of yesteryear and seemed to draw no new market boundary in their wake. In effect, mobile traffic itself constituted the new marketplace. Recognizing this, advertisers predicted and promoted new commercial developments far from traditional business centers. They did this partly through an architecture of mobility that acclimated motorists to an ex-urban culture of spectacle and an auto-oriented consumer landscape, where drivers were encouraged to window shop right through the windshield. Moreover, outdoor advertisers helped develop fringe areas, laying the pavement for the birth of the commercial strip and the urban sprawl that came to the late twentieth and early twenty-first centuries. By recognizing a mobile market, charting its patterns, inscribing those patterns onto the landscape through an architecture of mobility, and promoting the commercial strip— the ideal space for mobile consumption— outdoor advertisers would help to define the shape of the decentralizing environment. Outdoor advertising emerges as a significant missing element in the story of commercial growth and urban deconcentration.


Real Estate Main Street Shopping Center Gasoline Station National Branding 
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© Elspeth H. Brown, Catherine Gudis, and Marina Moskowitz 2006

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