Leverhulme Research Project Grant (£154,757)
October 2011-September 2014
Professor Simon Gunn and Dr Susan Townsend (University of Nottingham)
In the last half century the automobile has transformed life in cities across much of the globe, offering unprecedented freedom and personal mobility while simultaneously endangering the environment through the increase of carbon emissions. This three-year project investigates the origins of the modern ‘car system’ and its embedding in two post-war cities: Nagoya, the locus of the Toyota company in Japan, and Birmingham, Britain’s most enthusiastic ‘motor city’ and home to the Austin Motor Company. It asks how the advent of mass motoring in the 1950s and 1960s influenced city planning and the way the cities were used by their inhabitants. Most fundamentally, it examines whether the relationship between the car and the urban environment has been understood differently in East and West and, if so, how this has affected the policy and practice of modern urbanism.
The project’s purpose, then, is to uncover the post-war history of the relationship between automobility, freedom and the city; only by understanding this past can we begin to think critically about the dominance of the ‘car system’ in contemporary life. To investigate these themes, the project brings together Simon Gunn, an historian of urban Britain, with Dr Susan Townsend, an expert in modern Japan in the University of Nottingham’s Department of History. Assisted by two researchers, they will piece together the history of how the car came to transform the city in post-war Britain and Japan and present that history in various media including a website, a public exhibition and a co-authored book.