Cars and Contradictions

(by Debra Efroymson) People love shopping malls: lots of shops crowded together, a variety of things to buy and eat, and the chance to sit on a bench and stretch your legs, without having to deal with the noise, smell, or danger of cars.

People love parks, beaches, outdoor plazas, and so on: places where you can sit or stroll, talk to friends; where children can run about and play, without having to deal with the noise, smell, or danger of cars.

Cars and ContradictionsPeople hate getting stuck in traffic. To avoid traffic, people often want more and wider roads and highways. But…people don’t want to live near a highway or major artery.

People hate walking through sprawling parking lots. But…people also hate arriving at a destination and not finding a free parking space right away!

People fear that their children will be hit by a car. Children and others greatly lament the loss of a pet when it is run over. Worse yet when a close relation or friend is killed in a car crash. But…people consider it normal to drive everywhere and accept the carnage as a necessary part of life. “Accidents will happen.”

People think that cars represent freedom. We believe we aren’t “free” until we have our driving license, and we resist surrendering our license when we really shouldn’t be driving anymore, because without it we lose our freedom. But…cars also tie us down. We have to pay the note on the car. We pay for insurance. We pay for fuel. We pay for repairs. We worry about where to park the car. We worry about people damaging our car. We refuse to go to some places because it isn’t easy to drive or park there.

We can be kind, gentle, civilized people in our daily interactions. When we get behind the wheel of a car, too often we turn into aggressive, impatient, angry people who don’t at all mind the fact that our driving could result in someone’s death. After all, it would be their fault!

We want the government to provide us with amenities and services. We complain that the libraries aren’t open enough hours, that trash isn’t picked up fast enough, that our parks aren’t nice enough or well enough maintained. Very often we want more money spent on roads. But…we want lower taxes.

We call expenditures on transit and rail a loss. We call expenditures on roads and highways an investment. But…roads reduce property values, while transit stations raise them.

We accept the daily loss of mobility for those who don’t have a car; we accept miserable and dangerous conditions for walking and cycling; we accept the car’s domination of our cities and our lives. We scream if the price of fuel rises. We long for something better, yet we aren’t willing to accept any “sacrifice” to get there. In the words of Hamlet, the fear of the unfamiliar “makes us rather bear those ills we have than fly to others that we know not of.” But…it is our familiar habits that bring the danger and dreariness of car culture into our lives. The alternative is not fearsome, but rather full of promise and hope…if only we could muster up the courage to step out of the car, and step into a brighter future.

Text and photo by Debra Efroymson

About Contributing

Once upon a time, environmentalists lived in the forests, while the many of the rest of us moved the suburbs to be near the forests. Today we’re on our way back. Living near nature is an attractive notion, but many who tried it found nature soon vanished and they were left isolated. For both environmental and social reasons, living in the suburbs or the forest is not sustainable. Today we know cities are good for people and for forests. We know that the less land each of us occupies, the more space there will be for nature. In a city, we have a smaller footprint. Living in a city isn’t only good for the planet, it’s good for all of us. When home, work, shopping end entertainment are close, it encourages walking and promotes the active lifestyle that keeps us healthy. The New Colonist is about moving in from the suburbs, moving into and reclaiming towns and cities that have been depopulated, and building more housing in healthy cities. It’s about building smarter and closer-in new developments; building transit-oriented, mixed-use developments in new communities, and bringing more transportation options to communities where a car is presently the only option. Sustainable city living–chronicling the return from the suburban diaspora–is the focus of …Move In. City Life is good for you. It’s good for the your health. It’s good for the planet. Eric Miller Richard Risemberg