In a time when geography plays such a defining role in people’s lives, Main Street — a unique symbol of American values — provides a powerful lens for documenting the country today. Mapping Main Street tells the stories of the over 10,466 streets named Main Street across America.
Once you start looking, you'll notice Main Streets are everywhere and tell all kinds of stories. There's a Main Street in San Luis, Arizona that dead-ends right into the Mexican border. The Main Street in Navasota, Texas, is a gravel road in the middle of a field. Main Street is small town and urban center; it is a thriving business district and the prostitution stroll. Thousands of Main Streets remain central to local communities. Food courts in US military bases around the world are called Main Street.
Traveling throughout the country, you start to recognize that perspectives on this nation are fundamentally local. Some Americans feel their dignity is being more fiercely defended than ever before. Others feel the beliefs they have long upheld are threatened. There is widespread nostalgia for the past. And many people are also looking find unity.
We started this project in 2008 in the wake of the financial crisis. At the time, Main Street vs. Wall Street was a constant refrain in political speeches, and so we thought, what if we went to streets actually named Main Street and talked to people. What would they say? What is really happening on Main Street? We put all of our stuff in storage, packed into a station wagon and traveled 14,000 miles around the United States, visiting hundreds of Main Streets. Now, it’s 8 years later. Donald Trump is president. We started this project because it felt like politicians didn’t understand people. But today the problem goes even deeper — more and more Americans don’t understand each other.
Constantly evolving through a podcast, site and social media, Mapping Main Street brings together stories from across this diverse landscape. Anyone can contribute their own stories to the project via the hashtag #mappingmainstreet. We see Main Streets that have suffered as more and more wealth is concentrated in the hands of a few, factories shuttered and opiate addiction rising. Other Main Streets are thriving with influxes of new jobs. Everywhere, people are fighting for their vision of the future. All of these Main Streets are deeply American.