Cars and car-centrism

The automobile has not merely taken over the street, it has dissolved the living tissue of the city. Its appetite for space is absolutely insatiable; moving and parked, it devours urban land, leaving the buildings as mere islands of habitable space in a sea of dangerous and ugly traffic.
~James Marston Fitch

We hear all the time how Americans have a “love affair” with their cars. How we need to stop driving so much. How we could save money and lose weight by walking more.

But this isn’t merely a personal problem, it’s a public problem. People drive because there aren’t any jobs within walking distance…the residential areas are segregated from the commercial areas. People drive because the roads are too busy and it’s unsafe. They drive because their friends and families are spread out.

They drive because everything is far away because everyone drives.

It’s not impossible to stop driving, especially if one lives near a college, which tend to have a higher percentage of carlessness. It’s easier if you live in an apartment, where more people live in less space, allowing for less distance between here and there.

But suburbia developed because of the car. And pointing your finger at the car isn’t going to help much if you don’t also point your finger at the symptoms of a car-centric culture. It’s a positive feedback loop. Cars have perpetuated cars have perpetuated cars.

Carless living isn’t something that America is going to grasp immediately. People have to start becoming smarter consumers of cars and smarter livers. (Something I, sadly, don’t see happening any time soon.) We have to start settling for what we can find within walking, biking, or bussing distance instead of going for that $0.20 discount we get at the store across town. Systems have to start responding to the needs of an increasingly carless public. Less parking, more density of people per square mile. Less dedication of our tax dollars, space, and resources to vehicles. (Consider how much of your city is used only for driving or parking on.)

The push is already beginning, in some areas, both physical and otherwise. I’ve already mentioned the Smart ForTwo (which comes in first place as Fox’s The Coolest Thing on the Road…the DeLorean DMC-12 is a close second). Car-free neighborhoods of various flavors are cropping up in Europe.

Like so much else within the “green movement” you can’t only focus on the immediate problem. And complex problems require complex solutions.

But since I am about, if nothing else, personal accountability, I will offer a few suggestions. If you must buy a car, buy the smallest, most fuel-efficient car you can. And if you are able, move as close as you can to as many of your haunts as possible and walk, bike, or bus around when you can. No one can ask for more than that.

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One Response to “Cars and car-centrism”

  1. Dargon Says:

    I am glad you mention that the suburbs grew up around the car rather than the other way around. The ease of transportation the car brought is what brought about the separation between the residential and the commercial and industrial areas. With that rise, and with the heavy lack of public transportation, the need for more automobiles came about. Which, of course began the feedback loop.

    I am fortunate enough to live within a mile of campus and within two of the grocery store and the library. However, if I need anything I can’t get at the grocery store, the nearest hardware, electronics, and general merchandise stores are all more than five miles away, hence a drive or a very long walk.

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