Image Credit: Peter Wynn Thompson for The New York Times
A Rite of Passage--Going, or Gone?
It's as American as apple pie--teenagers "driving around in a big loop, listening to music, waving at one another and wasting gasoline." It's called cruising, but unfortunately the high cost of gas, combined with a tough economy, has made this rite of passage too expensive for most teens and their parents. As a result, America's youth are being forced to seek out other forms of entertainment, such as "hanging out in parking lots, malls or movie theaters," and parking their cars and walking around.
Americans of All Ages Are Feeling the Effects
Teens have already been waiting longer to drive due to higher insurance costs, the decline in school systems offering driver's education programs and stricter laws--such as graduated driver-licensing--for teenage drivers. Now, however, teens that already drive are finding it harder to raise the cash to do so. Given how automobile-dependent America has become, it isn't surprising that $4 a gallon gas is having so many impacts on our society. In the last few months Americans have dramatically cut back on the amount of miles they drive, and sales of smaller, more efficient cars are up.And while Americans are experiencing economic hardship, it's clear that in the long run high gas prices will force some necessary, positive changes. One problem, for instance, is that our lives are so designed around cars that it is difficult to suddenly switch to alternatives when public transit is underfunded or non-existent in many places in the country, and roads were constructed to make driving safe--not walking or cycling. Still another problem is that we have grown accustomed to leisure activities that involve cars as well: for teens that means cruising the streets, and for adults that means driving to the movies, the theatre, dinner or to a friend's house.
There's Something Wrong
There's something wrong when the only alternative to driving around in circles is driving to a mall parking lot and walking around the mall. Perhaps in the long-run, while we lower carbon emissions, improve our crumbling infrastructure and get off foreign oil, we'll start to see a cultural shift towards cities built for human beings and that are conducive to human interaction. That way, the cost of energy won't cause economic hardship, nor will it curtail leisure activities.