"Forget the damned motor car and build cities for lovers and friends."- A quote from Lewis Mumford starts an interesting and provocative article by Eric Sanderson.
When you think about how much space we actually give away to cars in our cities, you have to wonder what they were thinking. Once you figure that out, you have to wonder what it is with politicians today that they don't get it, why every inch of space taken away from parking or driving is "the war on the car."
Eric Sanderson does the math and finds that a person standing on the sidewalk takes up four square feet, when the car parked on the side of the road takes up twenty times that area doing nothing. That thanks to parking requirements in our zoning bylaws, we devote as much square footage to cars as to people and businesses, all of which has to be paid for in the cost of goods and services and construction costs that are shared by everyone whether they drive or not. And the reason we don't change:
...we have already invested so much into the roadways and the regulations and industries to support this car-mad way of life that change feels, smells, and sounds unthinkable, even if for the millions of people stuck in traffic, consciously or unconsciously, they can think of nothing else. In America, inertia reigns over the Republic. What galls, of course, is that so many other cities, in other countries around the world, are making exactly the same mistake America did and giving over lovely towns and cities and countrysides to automobiles…and their attendant problems.
It's a fascinating article with some interesting prescriptions, excerpted from Sanderson's book Terra Nova: A New World Oil, Cars and Suburbs (Abrams, 2013) Read it all at Sustainable Cities Collective.
Meanwhile, over at the Economist, they write that "The world is becoming ever more suburban, and the better for it." Because it is a sign of spreading global wealth and the growth of the middle class.
The simple truth is that as people become richer they consume more space, just as they consume more energy, more goods and more services. Wealth fuels sprawl.
In their editorial, the Economist recognizes the costs that suburbs impose on everyone else, and recommends carbon taxes, toll roads and high parking charges. Good luck with that; in the same editorial they want to pave over greenbelts and loosen restrictions to reduce the cost of housing and suburban living. You can't have it both ways. They claim it is inevitable:
A model of living that has broadly worked well in the West is spreading, adapting to local conditions as it goes. We should all look forward to the time when Chinese and Indian teenagers write sulky songs about the appalling dullness of suburbia.
Sounds like a great future to me. See the whole essay in the Economist