"What Killed Downtown? remains a welcome contrast to countless other chronicles of downtown decline whose narratives depend on sociological detachment. Recognizing that true objectivity is impossible, Tolle instead depicts the Norristown transformation from the perspective of people who experienced it."
- Eric McAfee, Urbanophile
In 1950, the classic American downtown of Norristown, Pennsylvania, built around the six core blocks of Main Street, was the bustling commercial heart of central Montgomery County — and had been for over a century. Downtown merchants looked forward to an extended period of prosperity.
It was not to be.
By 1975, Main Street's core stood largely shuttered and deteriorating, with 99 storefronts vacant, and countless others lost to the wrecking ball, as first shoppers and then the merchants fled the inner city.
What Killed Downtown?
Historian Michael E. Tolle's extensive research into the collapse of downtown Norristown reveals not only the many answers to this question, but also recreates the classic American downtown shopping experience, long an American characteristic, but now largely foreign to anyone below middle age.
In so doing, Tolle lays bare the fundamental incompatibility between the urban grid and the automobile, as he recounts how a middle-sized American city struggled — and failed — to solve the issues of traffic flow and parking, issues that are no closer to solution today, regardless of the size of the city.