Technology Not to the Rescue

By J. H. Crawford | The news is all full of electric cars and robotic cars, and cars, cars, cars. Only the Guardian has dared to question how this all plays out.

Safe, self-driving, electric cars only solve a small fraction of the problems that cars cause. Let us assume for the sake of argument that we can produce the needed billion or so self-driving electric cars. (This assumption is by no means warranted, given limitations in material resources, energy, and financing.)

So, supposing that we build the necessary fleet of robotic cars and find enough energy to recharge them, what problems have we actually solved by this measure? Yes, perhaps the energy and pollution problems have been fixed, and maybe the safety issues with cars as well.

What unsolved problems does this leave? Well, it’s a long laundry list. Cars will always take up too much of the precious land in cities. They will always make too much noise at high speed. They will always be an ugly blot on what should be the beautiful faces of our cities. They are inherently isolating and lead to weaker social bonds. Even if they are perfectly clean and are never involved in collisions, they are still a public health menace, as they discourage people from walking and cycling and so lead to increased death rates from a long list of causes.

Their presence in large numbers will continue to depress real estate values near highways. They will continue to consume immense amounts of money for their construction, operation, and scrapping. The public will continue to subsidize the construction and maintenance of highways. These highways will continue to form barriers that divide communities.

As I said 16 years ago in Carfree Cities, the car “will remain the most expensive, most resource intensive, and least sustainable method of urban transport.” The passage of time and the advancement of technology has only served to strengthen my conviction that cars just don’t belong in cities.

J. H. Crawford is the director of and the author of Carfree Cities and the Carfree Design Manual. This article was first published in the Spring 2016 issue of Carfree Times, and is republished with permission.

Photo by Richard Risemberg

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