Cars, the pinnacle of affordable human engineering, have improved countless of lives around the world, or have they? The Automobile Industry would certainly like you to think that. They are the embodiment of freedom for the individual, yet they can be very restricting to others. Which makes us wonder. Were cars a bad idea?
Be honest, you too have been caught up in traffic jams and wished all cars would just disappear, didn’t you? And ye, we cherish our cars and think we couldn’t live without them. Fact is, that the Automobile Industry aggressively introduced cars into our society around the turn of the 19th century. The first cars literally ran pedestrians off the streets and made themselves comfortable in their stead. And thus here we are – living in sprawling metropolises where no one can find affordable flats or outright living in the deep countryside, outside the natural reach of anything but cars. Our whole lives and infrastructure only developed through cars, and not all of it is good.
The Political Impact of Cars
Let’s first say that even if cars wouldn’t have caught on back then, they would’ve later. The idea is too obvious to not catch on at one point in time. But let’s assume it wouldn’t.
Apart from high profits, new jobs, and the abandonment of public transport systems like cable cars, the Automobile Industry enabled much more than just individual movement. Without cars, entire wars would’ve probably had different outcomes. Events like Hitler’s Blitzkrieg would’ve never happened without advancements in the Automobile Industry. President JFK would’ve probably been assassinated in a Horse Carriage. But let’s not dwell too much on politics, there are more immediate impacts on the way we live if we cars never existed.
The Automobile Industry Changed our Cities
The prospect of affordable cars changed the way we build cities and communities altogether. It is no coincidence, that it’s easier nowadays to find a parking spot than affordable living quarters. Our cities are entirely ruled by cars – not only in numbers but in the way they force us to rethink building. How often do you see cities expanding their street network to ease traffic jams? Guess what, it doesn’t work. There are actual studies showing that there is a correlation between the number of streets available and the amount of traffic – ergo building more streets doesn’t reduce traffic jams, it merely increases them in size. And guess what has to happen to build new ineffective streets – houses and shops need to go.
If it’s not a street, it’s a parking spot. Some cities allocate up to a quarter of their space to parking lots. These are spaces that we just use to store cars while we are facing a dire housing situation in the big cities and a shortage of jobs. Just think about how much space we need to store our vehicles, things we usually only use 2-3 times a day which correlates to just 5% of the time. The other 95% they just take up valuable space. How much, in fact, you can check here.
The Damage is Irrevertible
Thanks to the Automobile Industry, we designed all our cities with cars in mind, so we spread them out instead of making them accessible. No wonder nothing is in walking distance in the US. Even if you wanted to, many things nowadays are actively designed in a way that you have to drive there by car. When you look at older cities in Europe that are designed without catering to cars, you can see the difference. City centers are much closer together and almost everything is within walking distance. Of course, those cities reacted to the introduction of cars as well, though the actual layout is still representing a “what could’ve been”.
The Pollution Issue
Cars obviously feast on oil like a vampire leeches blood from a human vein. Oil is rare, dirty and destroys our planet. So what if we remove cars from our earth? We’d still be incredible dirty lifeforms, yes, probably true. But we would have the need to find alternative forms of transportation. Public transport existed before cars went mainstream and before the Automobile Industry allegedly bumped them out of the race. Now with cities stretched out and industrialized, it is almost unthinkable to revert to a mainly public transportation system, but the idea isn’t as far-fetched.
If we had, like most cities in Europe, designed our urban areas with foot traffic and public transportation in mind, there’d be more space to live directly in cities and most things would be in walking distance. Cars wouldn’t be necessary, at least not for movement within a city, something that is, as of today, either impossible or very hard to do in some US cities. This also means a lesser impact on the environment through cars, streets and traffic jams.
But obviously that’s wishful thinking, the moral of the story though is as follows. Nothing is ever entirely good, especially if it has impacted and influenced our society for over a century. Keep that in mind.
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