Thinking about the end of the car age: the Guardian has been running a series asking readers to consider urban life in the future. This article gathers views on life after the car.
I have an ambivalent attitude to cars. The image shown here captures one reason why I think cars are monsters and quite possibly the biggest scam ever perpetrated on society. When you arrange everything to suit the car there is nowhere worth going to. Cars by and large worsen all the problems they are meant to solve. Had we been a more prescient society around 1900 the car would be as practical an option today as helicopter travel. If cities had stayed as dense as they were then, the train and some buses and bikes would be all we needed and only a few determined people would insist on “motoring” around in those areas far from town and city.
Set against that is that in isolation, motor cars are rather fascinating machines, an astonishing fusion of engineering and aesthetics which reflect the great complexity of society spatially and temporally. I like cars in a hypothetical sense, for what they could be and not for what they are.
Thus I feel it’s not inconsistent to present the Guardian’s musings on life after cars. I think it might be quite pleasant if car ownership fell by a half; I don’t want to commute and I resent all those people getting in my way when I want to tour randomly. From a pedestrian and citizen point of view, cities without cars very much more pleasant than cities designed
to appease them. I could spend the rest of my life walking the classical city cores of London, Rome, Basel, Cologne and Paris and using trains to get to points in between. I think that a major goal for planners is re-engineer the automobile-centred suburbs. Not just because it’s good for the planet but because it’s good for people.
It’s profoundly undemocratic that only a few get to live the life of car-free ease with supermarkets, work and schools all within a ten minute stroll of the front door. I also feel that when the dull mass of commuter-traffic has died down we can get back to loving the car as rolling sculpture, as entertainment and as a form of recreation.
Above all, the car as servant is wonderful. For people whose lives have been made to depend on them, the car is a master: gobbling income, consuming space, taking time for maintenance and repair. We don’t need that.