America's Airports: Airfield Development, 1918-1947
Chicago-O'Hare, DFW, LAX, New York–La Guardia. Across the country, Americans take for granted the convenience of air flight from one city to another. The federal role in managing air traffic and the cooperative corporate planning of major airlines mask to some degree the fact that those airports are not jointly owned or managed, but rather are local public responsibilities.
In this unique history of the places travelers in cities across America call "the" airport, Janet R. Daly Bednarek traces the evolving relationship between cities and their airports during the crucial formative years of 1918–47. She highlights the early history of experimentation and innovation in the development of municipal airports and identifies the factors—including pressure from the U.S. Post Office and the military, neither of which had the independent resources to develop a network of terminals—that made American cities responsible for their own air access. She shows how boosterism accelerated the trend toward local construction and ownership of the fields.
In the later years of the period, Bednarek shows, cities found they could not shoulder the whole burden of airport construction, maintenance, and improvement. As part of a general trend during the 1930s toward a strong, direct relationship between cities and the federal government, cities began to lobby
for federal aid for their airports, a demand that was eventually met when World War II increased the federal stakes in their functioning.
Along with this complex local-federal relationship, Bednarek considers the role of the courts and of city planning in the development of municipal airfields. Drawing on several brief case studies, she looks at the social aspects of airports and analyzes how urban development resulted in a variety of airport arrangements.
Little published work has been available on this topic. Now, with Bednarek's insightful and thorough treatment and broad view of the subject, those interested in the patterns of American air travel will have new understanding and those concerned with urban development will recognize an additional dimension.
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