Community Dissolution & Cars

From my current reading:

…community cannot form in the absence of communal space, without places for people to get together to talk. Just as it is difficult to imagine the concept of family independent of the home, it is near-impossible to imagine community independent of the town square or the local pub. Christopher Lasch has observed that “civic life requires settings in which people meet as equals. Thanks to the decay of civic institutions ranging from political parties to public parks and informal meeting places, conversation has become almost as specialized as the production of knowledge.” In the absence of walkable public places–streets, squares, and parks, the public realm–people of diverse ages, races, and beliefs are unlikely to meet and talk. Those who believe that Internet webs sites and chat rooms are effective substitutes vastly underestimate the distinction between a computer monitor and the human body.

In the suburbs, time normally spent in the physical public realm is now spent in the automobile, which is a private space as well as a potentially sociopathic device. The average American, when placed behind the wheel of a car, ceases to be a citizen and becomes instead a motorist. As a motorist, you cannot get to know your neighbor, because the prevailing relationship is competitive. You are competing for asphalt, and if you so much as hesitate or make a wrong move, your neighbor immediately punishes you, by honking the horn, taking your space, running into you, or committing some other antisocial act, the most egregious of which have been well documented… Suffice it to say that only rarely do two pedestrians gesture violently at teach other as they pass.

Duany, et al. Suburban Nation, 60-61.

4 responses to “Community Dissolution & Cars”

  1. i love this entry. of course. we now have a car. we’re car sharing with evan peters, our neighbour.
    it took us a month to decide whether to take it. long story. but i must say apartment living is definitely more communal. so is living downtown…in the poor area… in the more cultural areas. every culture has their own restaurant, grocery store…pub? it’s wonderful.
    we’re just missing the town square. but we have plenty of gardens!
    it is possible. it just takes work and most everyone around you WILL NOT UNDERSTAND AT ALL!

  2. “conversation has become almost as specialized as the production of knowledge.”

    everything else i’d heard before but this really clarified some things for me.

    in the midst of communities seeking to practice their faith while still inadverdantly practicing the faith of their popular culture, communication is difficult and laden with sub-conscious assumptions regarding the intent of one who seeks to intiate conversation: they are seen as dangerous, or less aggressively, seen as another equation to factor in an already packed schedule.

    so communities seeking effectiveness are very prone to the sin of specializing conversation.

    my friend suggested, in a meeting (in my community) last week that there be a huge meeting once or twice a year like those on his reserve back home; they went like this:

    the tribe council and chief were there and so was anyone who was interested. anybody was free to ask a question or comment, to sit quietly by or to speak loudly in disagreement. the council and chief stayed till people were done talking. the meetings would often go till 3 in the morning.

    this example speaks to me about the common fear response to de-specializing conversation, the response of ‘the organism could not function.’ with this example the members can feel heard by the very top but these meetings also only happen twice a year so they do not monopolize much of the leadership’s time.

    there is a simplicity and a humility to being willing, in your structures, to leave room for the conversation that flows between everyone as equals. when this happens, the stories of the old can be told, the young can challenge, both can learn from each other.

    thanks for letting me post

  3. maria: of course, cars are virtually a necessity, as much as it may be agony-inducing. we’ve built our cities in such a way that being carless = being a second=class citizen, unable to fully access what you need within the city. but we certainly can fight against this in many ways like sharing a car! hopefully this will become less and less necessary though!

    joel: good thoughts my brother. there’s so much we have to learn about how toxic our cultural norms are.

  4. argh that makes me so annoyed when people say “cars are a necessity today”. that’s crap.
    they are not. if you actually want to, just stop driving one. its not actually that complicated. yes, it can be frustrating biking in the rain and bussing on the weekend, but you know what else can be frustrating?
    sitting in traffic. road rage. parking lots. self-serve. scraping windows. plugging in your car. numb hands on a cold steering wheel. paying for repairs. insurance. fender-benders. gas prices.

    i personally know lots of people in winnipeg who don’t drive. some are kids, some elderly, the poor, hippies, and average business folk.
    the dean of my faculty takes 2 buses to work every day even though he could get prime university parking. why? i don’t know. probably because he is a city planner and knows the damage done to the city in the last 4 decades. you know, principle.
    another prof i had lives off corydon, has a baby girl, and chooses not to drive. life is slower. a little less harried.
    its totally all your perspective.
    if my rant isn’t enough,
    check out
    right now we have been given a car to use for which we are grateful. we currently live in a very unfriendly place for the pedestrian, and yet despite the bewilderment of my colleagues, i walk 15 mins to work each day.
    will i continue to have a car? i don’t know.
    perhaps i will have a job that requires constant travel. perhaps not.
    perhaps i will live in the outskirts of town. i hope not.
    perhaps i will join a car-share co-op.
    my point is, cars are far from a necessity.
    food, shelter, clothing. a car doesn’t really fit in that category now does it.

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