Monday, November 11, 2019

"Choosing" how to live in a motorist's world

The hidden choices most of us make quietly in our subconscious: "my car" is the natural choice for getting where I'm going comfortably and on-time. Hidden behind said choice was a context of an existing landscape and urban system that was shaped by a history of profound choices. Choices so profound they totally transformed the landscape around us in the name of a prosperous dream in less than three generations. 
Today, the dream is shaped by objectives people who started this experiment, a mix of suburbia and mass motorism, had never started with and never contemplated. Their ideals were dreams of a healthy, prosperous, safe existence. Those goals have been lost to long commutes by an unhealthy population, cost-burdened by housing + automotive costs, and our walks (or bike rides) across/along the street are about the most dangerous thing we regularly encounter. And things are not so great for motorists all the time either, as navigating an intersection is risky business for you (and your loved ones).
Hidden away in this dilemma are choices (thank you, democracy!). Choices to NOT intervene, to NOT embark on a counter offensive to course correct our trajectory of landscape transformation and urban system design is still a CHOICE. Those with power and wealth to succeed in the system are those with the most to risk in disrupting the system. The (often we) grown adults don't want to eat vegetables (or we think half-measures like a vitamin pill will suffice). 
[a note about "power"... to some degree, we all have it... some ought to share it, some ought to realize it, we all ought to encourage one another to collaborate in exercising it]
Results of our passive non-choices for a counter-offensive: 
  • The CARnage is washed away. 
  • The victims are still blamed. 
  • The reckless are still unaccountable.

The system was built on rules that seem objective (They used math. Math!), but an underlying history of choices are found to have favored the elite motorist (because only the wealthy owned cars when much of the rules of the road were established). 
Unfortunately, even as the motorist revolution became shared with a wider spectrum of incomes, the system didn't scale well and was not inclusive or universal in its benefits. With the imposed preferences of the motorist being applied to the broad landscape came the foundation for the subconscious decision (by all who were subjected to the whims of the motorist) to choose motorism. Why?
  • to span farther distances (distances that only made sense for a growing segment of the population that traveled distances quickly), 
  • to be safer (wrapped in a metal box so that your own squishy body wasn't as endangered during your trips), 
  • to provide luxury and entertainment to help you overcome the boring blandness that now lined the streets and the fade away of urban design that once responded to people who could interact with it (interaction between real people and real things is demoted by the motorists shell, no longer do they have the nuanced experience of social chatter, the smell of fresh coffee/pastries, the display in the window, or the event flyer promoting local talent).

For those having new exposure to the cars-required historical narrative may feel skeptical. Good! But, let me be clear. Not all these changes are masterfully orchestrated by motorists who wish to promote mass motorism. This isn't a villainous plot. Much of what was lost was not intentionally wiped away (thankfully, not all). It was far more ordinary (yet complicated) in its evolution than a classic story archetype where a hero slays the monster. This is the confluence of all of us subverted by a system that we have to see for what it really is before we (hopefully an inclusive "we") can shape a contextual response. 
Americans, many of us, live in a development pattern that is a market response to an influential technology, the ubiquitous personal/family automobile, that radically changed our interaction/relationship between one another and with our landscape. Mass motorism has diminished our nuanced understanding of the urban design elements that promote human-flourishing and many cherished aspects of civilization. It absolutely takes significant mental effort of translating what we see and our behavioral norms to digest the cause and effects of our collective decisions (in mass industry & governance) so that we can formulate an informed counter-offensive to revive the original goals of the American Dream. 
It is possible, but will we decide, rule-by-rule, fund-by-fund to course correct our "cars-required" choices?
I hope so.