by Dom Nozzi
We often hear the claim that the advent of the “green” car (clean emissions cars, electric cars, hybrid cars, hydrogen cars, high-efficiency cars, etc.) means that cars are no longer a problem. That walkability, quality of life, or new urbanist advocates have achieved their aims if we convert the car fleet to be “green.”
In my view, however, the reason why The Problem with Cars (and the new urbanist critique of cars) goes well beyond energy and air emissions is due to what I call the “gigantism” disease. For me, the most important reason we need to return to the timeless tradition of designing for people, not cars is that cars consume an enormous amount of space, which obligates car-enabling communities to create a miserable human habitat: Roads that are too big (and therefore too high-speed, dangerous and loud), huge building setbacks, huge street turning radii, excessively dispersed and unwalkable development patterns, single-use zoning, disconnected street patterns, oversized block lengths, enormous parking lots, etc.
Gigantism, in my opinion, is one of the biggest threats to cities, and is one of the primary reasons that many are so unlivable. Cities, to be healthy, need to leverage agglomeration economies, and the space (and speed) cars require or encourage is a powerful dispersant, which makes cars toxic to cities.
And the Gigantism disease is contracted regardless of how green a car is, or how much energy we have (or save). Indeed, “green” cars perpetuate the Gigantism disease.
Not only that. “Green” cars do nothing to reduce the monumental problems of suburban sprawl, transportation-related injuries and deaths, and strip commercial blight – all of which are nearly exclusively caused by auto dependency, and are not in any way diminished if Americans were to start driving subcompact electric cars instead of gas hogging, nitrous oxide-belching SUVs.
This is not a call for the elimination of cars. It is a recommendation that our society acknowledge that over-dependence on cars (particularly the design that conveniences cars, such as road widening, larger free parking lots, larger street dimensions, single-use zoning, excessive setbacks, peripheral development, etc.) and the purchase and use of oversized fire trucks and other vehicles (which end up inappropriately determining the dimensions of our streets) is ruinous.
Visit my urban design website read more about what I have to say on those topics. You can also schedule me to give a speech in your community about transportation and congestion, land use development and sprawl, and improving quality of life.
Or email me at: dom[AT]walkablestreets.com
My book, The Car is the Enemy of the City (WalkableStreets, 2010), can be purchased here: http://www.lulu.com/product/paperback/the-car-is-the-enemy-of-the-city/10905607
My book, Road to Ruin, can be purchased here:
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