Tag Archives: communities

Quick Take: Cars ≠ Freedom

I came across this passage on BostonBiker.org.  The post addresses two main issues that author has with cars.  While coming from a cyclist’s perspective, the post raised points relevant to anybody seeking a more rational approach to our cities.

I though the second passage of the post, on the mistaken idea that cars=freedom, was worth posting in full.  If you enjoy it, and/or have comments, please leave them on the Boston Biker site.   I’m just a messenger.

Human beings have evolved over the eons to favor things that make their lives easy, and shy away from those that make them hard. We are literally wired to enjoy things like sugar, fat, and salty foods, mostly because in the stone age we could never get enough of these foods so evolution wired our brains to search out these “easy” sources of calories. We use our big ol’ frontal lobes to come up with all sorts of ideas to make our lives easy. Farming, domestication of animals, automation, computers, cars…the list goes on and on. Evolution rewards (to a point) those humans that were able to “live the good life” by getting enough food and shelter, because those people had the most kids.

Cars (and more importantly car companies) tap right into that part of us that is seeking out the easier way. Why walk for weeks when you can get in your car and drive there in a day? Why ride your bike for days when you can drive your car there in a couple hours? Why walk for an hour to the store, when you can drive in a couple minutes? And you wonder why there is an obesity crisis?

People are not lazy per-say, they are simply falling victim to the wiring in their head. People don’t get fat because they eat too much, they get fat because we live in a modern world of plenty, but their brains are identical to the stone age hunters that had a very hard time getting food. Their brains tell them to eat lots of salty, sugary, fatty foods, and their bodies are designed to store that up for the hard times, they simply had the bad luck to live in a world FULL of these kinds of food. They suffer from a common problem in modern world, our brains and bodies are not set up for the modern world we have created.

The car culture feeds into that trap. It allows us if we so choose to spend our whole lives without walking a significant distance promoting obesity, and weakness. It allows (and encourages) the development of suburbs, and exurbs, and whatever comes after that, that destroy communities and encourage loneliness. It encases us in a little metal shell that promotes road rage (you don’t feel so bad about honking at the anonymous person in the other car, but would never act that way in an elevator). These are the kinds of things they don’t talk about in car commercials.

Even if you throw out all the physical and psychological negative effects on the human body you are still forced to contend with the fact that cars take up a lot of space. Much of the area in a modern city is dedicated to roads and car parking. Much of that land was taken from things like parks, sidewalks, green space, etc. Putting one person in one car, and then doing that a couple thousand times and your nice wide four lane roads suddenly don’t seem large enough anymore. Lets tear down some buildings and build more roads! Then people see the “ease” at which you can get around, so a couple hundred more people buy cars, and low and behold your 8 lane highway isn’t big enough anymore. Lets try a 16 lane highway! Damn that filled up too, better go with 32! Before long you end up with something like this:

Cars are sold as a luxury, as a path to freedom, to something that will make your life better! But in reality you can’t democratize a luxury. What I mean, is that not everyone can have a luxury item, or else it stops being a luxury and starts being a necessity. Cars are no longer a luxury in many places of this country, in a lot of places if you don’t have a car, you can’t get to the store, or to your job, or to school. Our cities have been designed in a such a horrible way that some people are forced to spend a large part of their work week earning enough money to power the car that gets them to work. Yet car commercials still show a lone traveler speeding through the empty city streets without a hint of traffic in sight.

In short, it’s a lie. The car companies sell freedom and mobility, but in fact offer only gridlock, poor land use, health problems, and global warming.

So what?

So what are we to do? If the “one car one person”, model has failed so fully what do we do to reverse it? The answer is simple, but is going to require a lot of effort. We need to stop designing our lives around cars. That means everything from removing on-street parking, building larger sidewalks, making people pay more for parking, building dense cities, providing good public transportation, and getting more people to ride bikes!


Walking With Jane

Nick, from Hoozdo recently posted the following piece on The Grid:

Walking With Jane

Saturday May 2 saw Jane’s Walk come to Phoenix. No, this wasn’t a charity fundraiser, but a simple Saturday-morning stroll along a pre-determined route through the heart of downtown Phoenix.

Jane is (was) Jane Jacobs, an American-born Canadian urbanist, writer and activist, best known for The Death and Life of Great American Cities (1961), a powerful critique of the urban renewal policies of the 1950s in the United States that led to the vast unnatural sprawl and isolation that plagues our cities today.

Jane Jacobs Equally well known for her grass-roots organizing and interventions into poorly thought out urban renewal projects that threatened to destroy neighborhoods, her great strength was not simply critiqueing urban sprawl and blinkered urban planning, but offering solutions and proposing radically new principles for rebuilding American cities.

Jane’s Walk is a series of neighbourhood walking tours that helps put people in touch with their environment and with each other, by bridging social and geographic gaps and creating a space for cities to discover themselves. (www.janeswalk.net)

Jane’s Walk Phoenix joined Anchorage, Boston, Cambridge, Dayton (Ohio), Jackson (Mississippi), Moscow (Idaho), New Orleans, New York City, Oakland, Oklahoma City, Omaha, Orlando, Philadelphia, Salt Lake City, San Francisco, Seattle, Spanish Harlem (New York City), Starkville (Mississippi) and St. Louis on the 2009 list. It drew a healthy and mixed crowd. Organizer Yuri Artibise smartly selected a few locations along the way to stop and talk about related issues or the location’s history, which allowed laggers to catch up.

Mainly, though, the issues, histories and anecdotes flowed naturally through the group’s social interaction, as it snaked its way through downtown. This was no ‘tour’ but rather a series of ambulatory conversations intersecting at the point where people and city merge.

Jane's Walk Phoenix 2009 descends on Roosevelt Historic Park
Jane’s Walk Phoenix 2009 descends on Roosevelt Historic Park

Differing opinions, different perspectives. Frustrations, experiences, hopes. Personal observations; who used to live here; where the best coffee can be had. It was also a great reminder of how much fun an ad-hoc community can be, and how easily and quickly one can be created.

And having worked in the heart of downtown for 6 years, exploring it freely, it was personally pleasing – and suprising – to find new interesting places. This city continues to reveal itself, repaying
but a minimal investment: a little shoe leather. Thanks, Jane – see you next year!

Jane’s Walk 2009 (all cities)

Jane’s Walk 2009 Phoenix – I

Jane’s Walk 2009 Phoenix – II

Thanks Nick, your review captured the essence of what i was trying to achieve in planning the walk.  not only celebrating the life and work of Jane Jacobs and the reemergence of downtown Phoenix, but creating a community and finding the hidden treasures that the city has to offer. I’m glad you had a good time.  Hopefully our paths will cross before next year’s walk(s).

Stay tuned to Hoozdo and The Grid who will be revisiting Jane periodically throughout the year.

Local Happenings: Radiate Phoenix @ Turf on April 28th

6a00e39827aafa883301157056cd2f970b-320wiOne of the groups that is celebrating the resurgence if downtown Phoenix is RadiatePhx, a downtown centered non-traditional networking group. RadiatePhx is more about community building, knowledge sharing and supporting local business than swapping business cards. In other words it is the type of group that Jane would support. The group meets that last Tuesday of each month at different central Phoenix establishments  with a guest speaker to discuss place making, design, community building and what’s going on in our urban core.

Turf2This month the Radiators are gathering at one of the local businesses that will be highlighted during Jane’s Walk PhoenixThe Turf Restaurant & Pub in downtown Phoenix.  The group will be joined by Malissa Geer.  Malissa is the Community Engagement Liaison at the ASU Downtown Phoenix campus. who serves as a catalyst to enrich the social, cultural, economic, and political life of the community that surrounds ASU Downtown Phoenix campus.

We will be meeting from 5:30-7:30pm and will also hear from Turf’s owner Andrew Mirtich about how ASU and other factors influenced their decision in selecting Turf’s location. I will also be making a brief presentation about Jane’s Walk Phoenix.

All Radiators get 15% off their bill tomorrow night.  That’s on top of the 50 cents off happy hour specials.

If you’re following this blog, chances are you are already interested in seeing downtown thrive.  This is a great opportunity to come out and here from people who are helping make it happen, while  supporting a local business, and learning more about Jane’s Walk.

Come Radiate with us.

Mr. Roosevelt

Here’s a great profile on somebody who exemplifies the spirit of Jane Jacobs, especially her focus on community building and grass roots activism.

Some extracts:

“Antonio combines a deep affection for his small village upbringing in Honduras with a cosmopolitan flair,”…. “What has most impressed me is his ability to bring the sense of community and love of nature he imbibed as a child into his efforts to build community and a sense of place in larger cities such as Phoenix.” 


“I have always been intrigued by cities,” he says. “How cities grow, how cities develop, how people’s relationships are affected by the growth of the city and how people live in the city.” 


HT: Downtown Phoenix Journal

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.

(via: http://pricetags.wordpress.com/2009/04/01/motordom-in-saskatoon/)

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.

A Walking Conversation

1062507_grupo_de_visita_1Rather than a traditional ‘heritage walk’ or guided tour,  we will be joined in the conversation by downtown residents, small business owners, local activists and interested observers, who will help engage the participants in a conversation with each other, using the sights on the tour for illustrations and inspiration.

The main ingredient of the Walk, however,  are the participants themselves, i.e. YOU.  Afterall, cities are first and foremost about people,and it is your opinions and stories that ultimately define  what downtown Phoenix is, and–more impoortantly–can become.