walking, gates & police

Car culture seems to be waning in the U.S. Which is not to say that people are giving up automobiles, but that the cars are no longer determining how people live and express themselves. Cars are becoming more utilitarian, judged on their useful and practical attributes, whose appearance is not so much an expression of the driver’s psyche as a matter of taste.

There is evidence that car culture is waning. A new study finds that urban sprawl, characterized by dead end streets and cul de sacs in neighborhoods has been decreasing since 1994. Which might lead one to conclude that St. Simons Island is anomalous because a new subdivision with a two thousand foot long dead end street has just been approved. Moreover, given an opportunity to voice their opinions, a large number of citizens objected to their neighborhood streets being connected to permit alternate traffic patterns circulating through them. But, in fact, both events can be used as evidence that it’s the circulation of cars, not the proximity of people that’s being resisted.

Guard House 9794 (Small)Although the latest segment of Frederica Township is being marketed as a gated community with only one way in, pedestrians and, presumably, bicyclists will have access through a hundred foot strip of woodland. And, while the street is two thousand feet long, it serves only ten 2+ acre lots in an environment that needs to be served by water and sewer lines. Nor are the developers objecting to constructing the road to county specifications, just in case the residents eventually decide (as three neighborhoods recently have) they don’t want to be responsible for the infrastructure. Gates may well be a passing phase, installed mostly to keep out unwelcome cars.

That it’s the cars that are unwelcome is also evidenced by neighborhood resistance to having interconnected streets to facilitate access by emergency vehicles. Once that purpose is explained, residents seem quite content to have the streets, as long as they’re not part of the routine circulation pattern. Traffic is the concern; not people. I make that point because, back in the 1980’s, it was the presence of unwanted people that prompted residents to resist having sidewalks installed in front of their houses. More recently, it seems, it’s only the cops that are spooked by people on foot.

The cops have good reason. Not only are their cages on wheels unwieldy in competition with a nimble youth (bicyclists are even worse), but when they exit the machine, they’re so weighed down by their gear and protective garb that the well-practiced routine of going for the gun and shooting off a few rounds serves as a stress reliever. How else to explain the execution of Tamir Rice?

Culture is, of course, coercive. And car culture is no exception. Which suggests that the selling of the car as freedom was one of the grandest deceptions of the twentieth century. Persuading hundreds of millions of people to lock themselves into cages on wheels was a monumental propaganda achievement. Even more so, three thousand people getting killed each and every day with hardly a word of objection.

Whom shall we credit with weaning the millenials off driving themselves? I nominate the school bus.

Image: the residents-only security gate at Fredrica (promotional image).

Monica Smith

Monica Smith writes Hannah's Blog. Born in Germany, she came to the United States as a child, living first in California, then after an interval in Chile, in New York. Married to a retired professor at the University of Florida, where she lived for 17 years, she moved to St. Simons Island, Georgia, in 1993 and now divides her time between Georgia and New Hampshire. (New Hampshire, she says, is always interesting during a presidential election.) She and her husband have three children and five grandchildren. Ms. Smith says she "learned long ago that I am not a good team player when I got hired at the Library of Congress, fresh out of college with a degree in political science and proficiency in four foreign languages, to 'edit' library cards and informed my supervisor that if she was going to insist I punch the clock exactly on time, my productivity was going to fall from being the highest to being the same as everyone else's. The supervisor opted to assign me to another building where there was no time-clock. After I had the first of our three children, I decided a paycheck wasn't worth the hassle."

One Comment
  1. The car culture cannot wane quickly enough. I live in the Atlanta suburb of Dunwoody, the house chosen by my late wife for its size and sizable yard for her gardening, and by me for its walking distance from a MARTA station. I have taken great pleasure in observing the rise of “live/work/play” developments and that the PCID (Perimeter Center Improvement District) is developing overall in this manner as a way of attracting young workers to owned and rental properties in the area. When I first moved here 16 years ago, there little to no sidewalks, no crosswalks, and when walking betwixt home and station, either mud or the edge of busy Ashford Dunwoody Road were my paths. This is no longer the case and it is delightful to see all the bicyclists and walkers where only cars once traveled.

    As for cul-de-sacs and dead ends, Dunwoody has them in abundance, outside of the PCID, as they were called for as desirable features so undesirables (anyone who couldn’t afford to live there or commuters) could not pass through. My street is one of the few east-west ones that connects to major north-south streets despite many attempts over the years by some residents near one end to change this state of affairs. They did get some concessions in the form of huge speed bumps, other traffic calming measures, and concrete meant to prevent left turns onto or from our street where it meets the eastward major road.

    I fear outside of Atlanta, Georgia will be behind the times as has frequently been the case. Developments like you describe will continue long after they’ve been abandoned as bad ideas elsewhere. I do have hope given in places such as Virginia, where they passed a law stating that new developments that were deliberately designed to be closed off would not be served by public services and be considered private roads since they only serve the property owners/residents.

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