Wednesday, May 16, 2007

Orson Scott Card on American Car Culture

Find linked at 2Blowhards a column by sci-fi writer Orson Scott Card pondering the elephant in the garage: how car culture impacts us, literally, and how a different sort of American landscape might look.

Steve, Reid and I are all sci-fi fans of various pedigree. We spend a lot of time puzzled about how things actually are and wondering how they might otherwise be, which is one way to sketch the appeal of science fiction. Orson Scott Card is a favorite of mine, but until reading this editorial, I didn't know he wrote of such worldly things as traffic accidents and terrorism.

"...How ironic. We redesigned our living patterns and got rid of public transportation so that we could boost the American automobile industry. Now we are forced to pay huge taxes to Iran, Saudi Arabia, Venezuela, and other oil-producing countries -- and we're buying half our cars from Japan and Germany and Korea.

Even if you don't want to live in the neighborhood I described, there are compelling reasons for us to cut way back on the number of hours we spend on the road in cars:

1. Stop Funding Our Enemies. As long as we're burning oil to buy groceries that used to be in the corner store and to take the kids to games and lessons that used to take place in neighborhoods and to get to work that we used to get to by bus or train, there's going to be a vast pool of oil money from which the sponsors of terrorism can draw.

2. Get Back That Wasted Time. If you cut your driving hours in half, how much time would you get back every day, to use on things you want to do? Even if all you want to do is veg out in front of the television, that's your choice. It's a lot better than spending that time driving.

For a lot of us, though, that would be an hour to spend with spouse and children. Goofing off. Talking. Visiting with friends. Going out to eat, or cooking a real sit-down meal at home. Having a life.

2. Saving Lives. In 2005, 43,200 people died on American highways. (John Crawley,"U.S. traffic deaths hit 16-year high in 2005," Reuters, 20 April 2006.)

If we were fighting a war in which 40,000 people died every year and it had gone on that way for the past twenty years, wouldn't you join the anti-war movement?

And this is a war in which the victims are children, teenagers, elderly people, adults in their prime. Men and women in equal numbers. Motor vehicle crashes are the leading cause of death for people from 4 through 33 years old."

One solution Card advocates in his article is a kind of community development known as New Urbanism. I've read a little bit about this (mostly at 2Blowhards), and while I support the premise that streets should be designed as safe places for people---not merely as pipelines for automobiles---and that our homes should be nearer our places of work and recreation, I fear development trends of any stripe and suspect this one will just lead to my losing more places to hunt.

In fact, one such whole-cloth New Urbanist construction project is going in now on a ten-acre midtown lot that once kept me in a steady supply of rabbit meat.

Steve writes of these New Urban spaces: "Of course they must allow us our animals in such places (in a way, I live in one that does). Libby had a pig and ducks growing up in Berkeley. My father had similar in Boston. And walking to hawking -- that's why I need a hawk and small falcons!"

I'm not sure the new "mixed-use" project in midtown will allow for raising livestock. But Steve's comments suggest that looking back at older neighborhoods could point the way to how the new ones should be constructed. I'm not much for new fads in real estate development, but I'm certainly for throwing away some of the junk ideas we've been pushing about how to live in America.


Moro Rogers said...

I really don't like public transportation. (If it were up to me I'd ride a pegasus everywhere...)

Matt Mullenix said...


Heidi the Hick said...

This is something I think about a lot. I justify my stupidly large pickup truck by just not driving a lot. It's difficult though, because in my subdivision is a typical spread out mess with curvy streets that don't go anywhere directly. It was designed to be driven through, not walked.

Public transportation is pathetic in this town...and will stay that way too. No reason to improve it if everybody drives and everybody drives because public transportation see where this is going.

to make matters worse, our goal of shipping outta town for the hills will not ease our dependance on the car. It'll be almost an hour to work for the big guy. If all goes according to plan he'll only be working 3 days/week, but still.

Orson Scott Card raises some excellent points.

And I'd like to wind this up by saying that in a perfect world...we'd all have a pegasus to ride.