Cars and Communities

Jane Jacobs was a fierce advocate for putting communities before cars.  She spent  more than a decade of her life successfully fighting plans to run expressways into the heart of Manhattan at the expense of neighborhoods such as Chinatown, Soho and Greenwich Village.  After moving to Toronto she campaigned (again successfully)  against a proposed Spadina expressway, which would have cut through the heart of downtown Toronto.  Unfortunately not every city had a Jane Jacobs and, as a result,  have suffered the consequences of putting cars before communities.

Paul Hanley recently wrote a two part column in the Saskatoon StarPhoenix on how cars can to dominate the urban landscape in North America.    It is based on an interview with Gordon Price, the director of the City Program at Simon Fraser University and a former 6 term city Councillor for the city of Vancouver, BC.

Part 1:  Remembering when cars took over our cities

Before the 1930s, children were free to play in the street and people could cross wherever they wanted. By the 1930s, motordom managed to convince people that the pedestrian, not the car, was the interloper and had to be restricted. The pejorative “jay walker” was introduced and public safety programs “educated” pedestrians to use signals and crosswalks.

Part 2:  Time to reimagine car culture

Photograph by: Reuters File Photo, The StarPhoeni

We don’t really like our car-dominated cities. We prefer places that are dense, lively and walkable — the places we tend to go to on vacation, such as the old centres of European cities, with interesting buildings, narrow streets, squares and public art. But because we have made our cities barely navigable without cars, we have no idea how to remake them in a more pleasing form.


Jane’s Walk Phoenix will provide an opportunity to look at how car culture has affected urban life in Phoenix.  As one of the few surviving pre-car neighborhoods in the Valley,  downtown Phoenix provides a useful backdrop to examine the impacts cars have on city life and the tenuous relationship between cars and communities.


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