Desire Lines: The Chicago Area Transportation Study and the Paradox of Self in Post-War America

James A. Throgmorton and Barbara Eckstein. 2000. In Literary and Visual Representations of Three American Cities, 1870s to 1930. A project web site of the 3 Cities Project of the Universities of Nottingham and Birmingham, United Kingdom.

This article interprets the Chicago Area Transportation Study (CATS) of the mid-1950s in light of the dominant ideology of mid-century, which we call the Americanization of Freud. By giving particular attention to the CATS planners’ definitions of desire lines, origin, and destination, we interpret their work within a central paradox of American individualism. On the one hand, psychoanalysis gave to western culture a foundation for asserting that each individual possesses a unique interiority susceptible to self-reflection, rational thought, and rebellion. On the other hand, as institutionalized in post-war America, this presumably rational self-determining agent became reified as a consumer, an object to be socially controlled by experts. In the post-war Americanization of Freud, the element of rebellion seemed to disappear from the self. To bolster our argument for interpreting CATS within the paradox of this post-war American self, we examine two additional government plans to move people into and within Chicago. One is the middle-1940s plan of the War Liquidation Unit (formerly the War Relocation Authority) to place interned Japanese Americans in interior cities, principally Chicago. The second is the so-called termination and relocation policy of the early 1950s to urbanize and decommunalize American Indians, in part by encouraging Indian peoples of the Plains and Upper Midwest to move to Chicago. Not transportation planners ourselves, we suggest that transportation (and other highly-technical modes of planning) could adopt a fuller and richer understanding of the ideologies, constraints, and experiences constructing self and human behavior than is presently the case. As a practical matter, we would suggest that sophisticated transportation modeling should be complemented by efforts to solicit personal narratives from individual citizens, to hear the desires of such people as actually expressed in their own voices, and to take seriously their own complex interpretation of experiences and desires.

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