I have a confession to make. I’m an advocate for smart growth, dense development, and design focused on pedestrians and bicycles. But that’s not the confession. This is: I like cars. Really, really like them. I check out the auto shows online to see what might be hitting the road soon, and I occasionally watch really bad TV or movies so I can see some badass wheels. I get excited when I see the new model of the Audi come out and really excited when I see an early model muscle car rumble by. A bitchin’ Camaro can stop me cold in my tracks, and I’m happy to empower the guy or girl driving it with my envious glare.
But here’s the thing: driving ain’t what it used to be. We, as a society, became so enchanted, so seduced by those righteous rides, that it clouded our better judgement. We started to think that our lives had to revolve around this love affair. The problem with this starts with the fact that it’s not really love. We don’t love things. We love people. And when we start to bend how we live—alter the fabric of our existence—to suit things rather than people… well, we’re in trouble.
Because those things—while not always without meaning or substance—are without the ability to reason or be self-aware. People of course do have this ability, yet when we cater our environment and communities to suit things we start to lose those abilities. We lose our place in the world and our relationship to one another. We get confused about who (or what) is in charge.
Cars can make our jaws drop, give us chills, and even make us feel gleeful and alive. They can evoke nostalgia of ridiculous family vacations and epic road trips with friends. They can create longing for a time that has past or a time to come. They are sometimes quite beautiful and can even be inspiring. But they are things. And if not kept in check, like an obsession or addiction they will consume us. They will devour our individual autonomy.
In fact, that is already the case. That idyll of the open road, playing Eye-Spy on the way to the coast, windows down, hair blowing as we cruise along a sun-dappled, tree-lined, gently curving road, while not dead is a dying notion replaced by miles of congestion and countless hours idling in traffic, road rage and car-b-ques along the side of the road, busted oil pipelines and environmental catastrophes written off as the cost of attempting to satiate a broken, dysfunctional, and crippling system.
It does not have to be so. There is a solution. And it starts with developing our communities for people. Not cars.