Monday, August 16, 2010


I've talked before about how sad I found the Americans' complete (and often imaginary) dependence on their cars. But I keep seeing things that make me realize that the problem goes even deeper that I could have imagined. To give an example: there is a convenience store close to my house. It takes me about 4 minutes of very leisurely walking to get there. Just today I saw a young woman who lives across the street go in the direction of the convenience store. In a couple of minutes, she returned, holding a soft drink. The shocking thing is that she went there in a car. There is no logical reason why one would prefer to drive in a car that has been standing outside, in a scorching heat all day long, instead of simply walking this very insignificant distance. Are we now at the point where such a possibility doesn't even occur to young people?

I especially love it when my students tell me that they missed class because their car wouldn't start. When I inform them that there is a very good and reliable public transportation system in this area, they look at me like the idea of taking a bus is completely alien to them. And then we wonder why the obesity rates are growing and people are getting less and less healthy.


car wash businessman said...

I completely agree, young people seem to think that only car should be used as a mode of transport & not public transport system.

Anonymous said...

In my city, I live 5 miles from my job (our city's major medical center). Between the job and my house, there are no bike lanes and few sidewalks, and one has to cross a major highway.

The bus takes two hours from my house to my work. It's no wonder people here are so dependent on their cars.

David Gendron said...

Excellent post. In my university, parking lots are practically full but it's not surprising: the large majority of academics are members of the bourgeoisie.

And I answer your last comment in my blog.

David Gendron said...

But there are other causes for this:

1) Town urbanism is conceive in priority for cars in North America.

2) Beacause the State builds roads, it creates too much highways for the real need.

3) State monopolies or contracted pseudo-private monopolies of town buses don't give the incentive to provide a good service.

4) Capitalism creates an artificial scarcity of jobs, therefore people work in places far away from home.

5) State takes too much space, therefore State prefers to finance something else for their electoral basis who loves the cars, and some other bullshit like War on Victimless Non-Crimes and Militaro-Terrorism.

Clarissa said...

Oh yeah, that's absolutely true. In the US, the state agencies (municipal authorities, etc.) acted as agents of the auto industry. City planning was conducted based on the interests of car manufacturers. They were allowed to buy and destroy the public transportation system.

I spoke to long-time residents of my area (Souther Illinois) who told me in detail how that happened.

But he saddest part is that nobody did or is doing anything to oppose that. People simply accept that there is yet another pile of debt they have to assume when buying a car. And the insurance. And the gas. And then you have to rent a garage, pay for parking, pay a mechanic. Still, everybody just sees it as normal.

David Gendron said...

Yeah, this is so sad! :(

"In the US, the state agencies (municipal authorities, etc.) acted as agents of the auto industry. City planning was conducted based on the interests of car manufacturers."

Oh, I should be stated this point more cleary, like you did appropriately.

Clarissa said...

Now, a question from Politics 101: what is the name of the political system that believes the interests of corporations and the interests of state are one and the same?

The answer is clear but too scary for many to accept.

David Gendron said...


Of if you don't see capitalism as a political system...fascism?

Richard said...

For once I have to say a good deal of nonsense is being put on this blog on the subject of cars. Yes public transportation and for that matter bicycles are preferred means of transport, but in some places in the U.S. that just isn’t practical. Where I live in New Mexico there are 40 homesteads scattered over 14,000 acres on the side of a mesa connected only by a narrow and often difficult dirt road. From our spread the nearest town (population 1,000) is ten miles away. Our entire county has a total of 16,000 people. Now please tell me how public transportation could work in that kind of setting.

Clarissa said...

Richard: so who is to blame for this kind of city planning? Who lobbied for it? Who made it happen? Who is profiting from this extremely inconvenient layout?

This is what's being discussed here.

Richard said...

Astonishingly this is just what happens when you don’t have big cities and their suburban satellites. In Flemish Belgium with 1,000 people per square kilometer we had a wonderful system of public transportation and world class bike lanes. In New Mexico Albuquerque with around 500,000 people is the only large city in the state. Everybody else especially in the high savanna (6,700 ft), where I live is pretty scattered out. We drive 40 miles (one way) to the nearest super-market. We have to drive 70 miles to Albuquerque to see a doctor or dentist. Yet we aren’t complaining, New Mexico is a culturally diverse society with a mild climate and low cost of living. If you wish I can E-mail some pictures of our house and back forty (literally). My point is we are fortunate in the U.S. to makes these kind of lifestyle choices. In Europe as much as we enjoyed living there the kind of land we have would have been completely unaffordable.

Clarissa said...

If you chose to live this way because you like the land and the lifestyle, then that's great. However, the opposite choice is mostly unavailable. If one ecides to be a college professor, with very few exceptions one is stuck living in the middle of nowhere. Most major cities in this country are uninhabitable, and the best one can hope for is some boring and depressing suburb that has no culture, everybody's the same, and the food is uniformly horrible.

It's great for those who love the land, the nature, and the distances, but it's hell for those who don't.

Richard said...

You are of course entirely correct on this subject, because this is a very large country. My oldest son attended Earlam University in Richmond Indiana which pretty much seemed like the restaurant at the end of the universe. That I think is the problem; you have extremes of living in beautiful, but sparsely populated and wild area or, if you are wealthy, living an artificial, but pleasant life in a large city like New York or Chicago. You folks who have chosen to be scholars are too often employed in universities that are located in suburbs of nowhere that have all the disadvantages of the suburbs (i.e. uninspired food, non-existent culture, social conformity etc.) with no compensating city life. You are also correct in considering U.S. Cities largely uninhabitable except by the very wealth or very poor.

eric said...

I've lived out West my entire life, save for a stint in the Marines during my pre-college days where I was stationed in Hawaii--my entire three years there I did not need nor own a car.

I think that after WWII, people began to see car ownership as a right rather than a privilege, and with suburban housing tracts popping up literally in the middle of nowhere, there arose in the emerging GI-Bill subsidized middle class an accompanying feeling of entitlement toward having that house, white picket fence, and a large plot of useless land (all that grows being a species of grass that you have to mow). Nowhere did this entitlement become more entrenched than out here in the West, where despite endemic water shortages, there was (and is) a perceived endless supply of land to fuel the "American Dream" of, basically, living as far apart from everybody else as you can possibly afford.

David Gendron said...

Richard, I don't think this post has the purpose to protest against the use of cars in rural counties.

Richard said...

You are right David, but I felt that I ought to speak up for rural America or what’s left of it. I certainly agree with one of the themes of this post and that is that suburbs and “suburbs of no where” are remarkably dull and uninteresting places.