Comment 26892

By geoff's two cents (anonymous) | Posted October 10, 2008 at 18:16:52

Alright, Capitalist, you've got me on a couple points - I meant to impugn mass ownership in an urban/suburban context, which is where most auto-owning Canadians live, but gave my two cents a tad hurriedly: My post could have used a last-minute edit. I'm actually not as radical as that post makes me appear - though I'm sure a case could be made for a wholesale rejection of the private automobile. That's not my concern at present.

With this in mind, there is indeed a function for the private automobile in a rural context to transport agricultural and other resources, as well as to make the everyday lives of these people much easier.

As for sick people getting to hospitals, ambulances can work wonders in getting them there quite speedily. No question that waiting by the side of the road with a missing eye or something is out of the question.

Traveling between communities, even rural ones, is possible using train or bus transportation. Most small towns in Ontario were accessible this way in the heyday of rail transport. In Britain and continental Europe, bus and train transport between outlying communities is much more efficient than in North America.

You're partly right on your last point. People are, indeed, hesitant to give up their cars because they need a reliable way of getting from A to B. No question here.

The fact that auto transport is much more convenient to use in so many instances, however, is a function of the way our communities have been built around private automobile use. There aren't even sidewalks in many suburban neighborhoods, making waiting for a bus that comes once an hour (or doesn't come at all) a serious issue for people who have better things to do with their time.

It hasn't always been this way, however, and there's no reason it needs to be in the future. The article above outlines some telling social issues with the nearly ubiquitous mass auto culture we take for granted. The environmental problems are also obvious. Communities can, in fact, be constructed in a less sprawling fashion. This doesn't necessarily mean highrises either. The late Victorian style of building, manifest in many areas around Hamilton, would be a vast improvement on the wasteful and inefficient planning we see today. Townhomes and low-rise apartments can also be built to accommodate a much higher population density without making a community feel like a concrete jungle. This way of building is much more common overseas.

The "time is money" argument is also hard to swallow, given the proportion of hours per day the average family has to work in order to buy, maintain, fuel and insure a vehicle - or several. Add to this the additional time spent commuting from outlying, auto-dominated areas, together with the cost and man-hours consumed by other aspects of the suburban lifestyle (larger properties and heftier mortgages, less efficient heating and cooling, etc.), and the time/money equation is evidently not the determining factor. At any rate, it isn't calculated in a terribly rational fashion. Irrational aspects might include our susceptibility to corporate advertising, the ability of private autos and larger suburban homes to act as highly visible status symbols, the belief that cities are bad for children (and generally morally damnable places), and - this is particularly evident in early twentieth-century ideas concerning automobility - an almost mystical notion that reason and technology will enable us to effectively transcend the limitations imposed by our human skins - in short, mass private auto ownership makes even the most lowly of
us into an ubermensch of sorts.

Nor can the enormous social and environmental impact of this way of life be measured entirely in dollars - though I can't help but wonder what proportion of future work will be devoted to fixing problems caused by our twentieth and twenty-first century environmental negligence.

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