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How design for disposability and convenience will bury us in waste

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miss blacktop
credit: Wisconsin Historical society


The National System of interstate and defense highways, as it is properly known, was more a product of the Cold War, built to induce sprawl and spread people around so that the Russians would need a lot more bombs.

In 1945, the Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists began advocating for "dispersal," or "defense through decentralization" as the only realistic defense against nuclear weapons, and the federal government realized this was an important strategic move. Most city planners agreed, and America adopted a completely new way of life, one that was different from anything that had come before, by directing all new construction "away from congested central areas to their outer fringes and suburbs in low-density continuous development."

But in one way, it had the opposite effect; it made it easy to move goods by truck, and to centralize production of the kinds of things that used to be made locally, like beer and Coke.

More: How sprawl was caused by the nuclear arms race, and why this matters more than ever today

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