Friday, February 1, 2008

Interstate Exits

Recently I came across Darrell A. Norris's article about the designs of interstate highway exit clusters, with the somewhat ponderous title, "Interstate highway exit morphology." Reading his introduction, I was struck by the claim that the interstate highway system has done more than enable the rapid diffusion of people and commerce through the nation; it has "created at least five thousand new but nameless 'places' in the American landscape" (p. 24). In an effort to analyze the form, scale, mix, and spatial structure of these places, Norris focused his attention on I-75, the interstate that (now) connects Hialeah, Florida, and Sault-Ste. Marie, Michigan, studying the non-urban clusters that dot that span.

Norris's essay seems mostly gleaned from a close reading of an interstate guide, counting the numbers and types of businesses found at rural exits (a surely tedious exercise that was aided by his students, as acknowledged in the essay). The author states that he augmented that somewhat detached method with field visits to exits in Tennessee. Putting aside the implication that this scholarship was little more than the counting and classification of dots on a map, I appreciated Norris's willingness to propose a naming-system for the various types of rural exits that can be found along (at least one) interstate highway, and I enjoyed his occasionally witty and critical prose. Finding a fair amount of diversity in the types of rural exit, Norris concludes with a useful reminder:
"Roadside homogeneity in American culture is a common assumptive slur which does not survive close scrutiny. The commercial cluster at an interstate does follow norms of form, scale, composition, and structure, but in detail its repertoire is endless and bears witness to the regional variation which pervades and enriches American mass culture" (p. 31).
Read the entire article: Norris, D.A. (1987). Interstate highway exit morphology: Non-metropolitan exit commerce on I-75. Professional Geographer, 39(1), 23-32.

On the subject of roadside Americana, I plan to write an essay on Route 66 simulacra that are located on or near the highway. Here I'm referring to tourist attractions, museums, and even casinos that reproduce "Mother Road" memorabilia, places, and objects for folks who do not have time or desire to see the real thing. Any suggestions for necessary stops are most appreciated.

(Photograph by Andrew Wood)

2 comments:

detroit dog said...

Interesting; I'll have to read it since I-75 runs right through here.

The Michigan State Historical Museum in Lansing will have a 2009 exhibit about "Roadside Attractions." (There is a photo of my brother and I in front of the Uniroyal Giant Tire (off I-94) that will be in it.) They are looking for the same type of memorabilia that you seek for Route 66.

I love to see the changing cultures of our travels.

Andrew Wood said...

Cool - I've got to check that exhibit out!