The car is destroying the city

Putting on my dusty urban planner hat, let me organized my thoughts on the subject of cities and cars in the 21 century. As I have been away from urban planning for some time, please excuse for my dated data. Urbanization and motorization have created increasing conflicts between living space and mobility since the end of WWII. The result has been congestion, air and noise pollution, and frustrating stagnation and unaffordable cost and unbearable frustration. Urban commuter traffic is the perfect illustration of supply side theory - demand follows supply. As soon as new freeways are opened for use, traffic congestion follows. In the automobile age, cities have become settings for machines rather than people. In the process of serving the city, the car is destroying the city.

Yet the car and its highways have also extended the horizon of city dwellers, expanded his radius of activity, and afforded them new modes of life style and new outlets for leisure and recreation.

The city and its transportation system need to be brought into harmony because there is no denying urbanization and mobility both contribute fundamentally to the advancement of human civilization. Tradeoffs between living and moving are false alternatives and can be avoided with intelligent planning. Socio-economic progress should be able to proceed without posing unnecessary choices. As Aldo Van Ecke, the humanist Dutch architect, said insightfully: Man still breathes in and out to live, when are cities going the do the same and avoid false alternatives? Without movement, there is no life, so to restrict movement in order to preserve life is a choice between false alternatives.

Separately, the city and the car both enable man to achieve greater freedom and widen ranges of choice. They are different venues for achieving the same human purposes. It is the indiscriminate use of either that creates the conflict.

The home and the car are the two must cherished extensions of a person's life in modern society and not having either is generally considered as a disadvantage. Since the introduction of the car, public transit, which many modern city dweller forget predated the automobile, has lost readership steadily to the new mode of mass transportation. The advantages of the car are undeniable, the most obvious of which is its multi use, for commuting, for shopping, for recreation, etc., even for romance and premarital sex. The marginal cost of additional uses of the car is very low. And the frequent short trips to varied destinations routine in metropolitan living makes the car superior to alternative forms of transportation, including buses. In term of comfort, the door to door protection of a car from the elements and noise is unsurpassable, not to mention privacy and freedom of schedule.

Public policy in the US subsidized the automobile revolution through extensive investment in hard and soft infrastructure