Tuesday, August 11, 2015

Happy Cities (2) Lost Streets

I enjoy the novels of Charles Dickens. His description of London life during the 19th century are fascinating. He describes the squalor and hardship brought by the industrial revolution. However, they other thing that stands out it that the streets of London were full of life. Much of the action of daily life occurred on the streets, making a very animated world. Charles Montgomery explains in Happy City why this does not happen any more.

For most of history, streets were for everyone. The road was a market a playground, a park and a thoroughfare, but there were no traffic lights, painted lines. Before 1903, not city had a traffic code. Anyone could use the street and everyone did. It was a chaotic environment lettered with horse dung, and fraught with speeding carriages, but a messy kind of freedom reigned.

Cars and trucks began to push into cities, a few years after Henry Ford streamlined mass production at his automobile assembly line (p. 67).
In the beginning, private motor cars were feared and despised by the majority of urbanites. Their arrival was seen as an invasion that posed a threat to justice and order. At first all levels of society banded together to protect the shared street.

But drivers joined with automobile dealers and manufacturers to launch a war of ideas that would redefine the urban street. They wanted more space. And they wanted pedestrians, cyclists and streetcar users to get out of the way. The American Automobile Association called this new movement Motordom.

They had to change the idea of what a street is for, and that required a mental revolution. Which had to take place before any physical changes to the street. In the space of a few years, auto interests did put together that culture revolution. It was comprehensive.

First, they had to convince people that the problem with safety lay in controlling pedestrians, not cars.

Most people came to accept that the street was not such a free place anymore – which was ironic, because freedom was Motordom’s rallying cry (p.70-71).
Modern cities have been transformed by the automobile.
It helped fuel an age of unprecedented wealth. It created a demand for cars, appliances and furniture that fueled the manufacturing economy. It provided millions of jobs in construction and massive profits for land developers. It gave more and more people the change to purchase their own land, far from the noise and hast and pollution of downtown (p.75).
Great for producing wealth, but what has it done to our culture and society.

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