By on February 26, 2010

[Editor's note: Please join us today at 3pm Eastern (noon Pacific) for a livechat with the authors of Carjacked: The Culture Of The Automobile And Its Effects On Our Lives]

Over the last several weeks, the Toyota recall scandal has reopened the national discussion about car ownership, raising new questions about the role of personal responsibility in our relationships with automobiles. Here at TTAC, we’ve argued passionately that a major lesson of the Toyota recall is that consumers can not rely on brand reputation or the assumption that cars will always work as we expect them to in order to protect ourselves and our families. But responsible car ownership doesn’t end there. To maintain a functioning relationship with our cars, it’s important that motorists understand that the vehicles we cherish come with high costs. And anyone who thinks that the awesome power of the private automobile doesn’t come with great responsibilities would do well to read through the relentless documentation of these costs that makes up the book Carjacked: The Culture of the Automobile and Its Effect On Our Lives.

A number of our readers will doubtless interpret Carjacked as an explicitly anti-car text, and from the cover image of a man straining under the weight of an SUV to the conclusion’s exhortations to support public transportation, there’s little to disabuse the reader of that impression. Indeed, upon a first reading, the car-loving reader might be tempted to dismiss the authors as irrationally car-hating ideologues. But at the end of the introduction to Carjacked, its authors offer an insight that should give pause to those who would discard the book as a mere screed:

asking individual Americans to take a close look at the problems caused by the automobiles can elicit a defensive gut response. Just as suggesting that a loved one sit down with a marriage counselor or a nutrition advisor can evoke fears of divorce or draconian diet restrictions, asking a driver to examine the full impact of the car on his life can prompt deep anxiety that he will be forced to give up his car. But for most of us, the choice is not between the car and no car. It is about whether it is possible to drive less and pay less for it; it is about recognizing the powerful lure of car advertising ad educating ourselves about the schemes of the dealership; it is about making careful choices about where to live when we move…

This sensibility alone prevents Carjacked from descending completely into the politically-driven, auto-hatred of the far left. The authors, anthropologist Catherine Lutz and marketer/investment banker Anne Lutz Fernandez, do indulge in a certain amount of utopian anti-car-ism, but their approach is more rooted in the problems of our daily life than garden-variety political demagoguery. And what red-blooded pistonhead can’t admit that the fantasy of our love for automobiles is rarely echoed in reality?

Car lovers having a hard time dealing with their “defensive gut reactions” to Carjacked‘s frontal assault would be well advised to start with Chapter Seven, which addresses the problem of traffic. While many of the book’s beefs with the automobile involve broader social challenges like economic inequality, poor health and the dire results of effective marketing, the section on traffic, sprawl and road rage help illustrate how car obsession hurts car lovers as much or more than anyone else. “Sartre’s much repeated line, ‘Hell is other people,’ may hold as a truism more on the nation’s highways than anywhere else in the public sphere,” write the authors. “Americans tend to treat traffic and its related hassles as a problem caused by others, failing to recognize our own role as drivers.”

It’s a pity, then, that the authors force readers through 150 pages of comprehensive and relentless criticism of all things car-related before giving motorists such an approachable example of the problems of car culture. Despite having admitted that “for most of us, the choice is not between the car and no car,” the authors blame car marketing for perpetuating the myth that cars equal freedom before ever getting to the infinitely more common sense critique that our actual, day-to-day freedom is more dependent on the number of other cars on the road than the ground clearance of our SUV, or the amount of horsepower under our hoods.

This is emblematic of the fundamental problem with Carjacked: it falls into the convenient trap of blaming everyone from oil and auto companies, to government policy and the entertainment industry for the automobile’s ills, reducing individuals to mere pawns of these malignant forces. Not only does this approach confuse the symptom (the negative effects of automobiles) with the disease (the broader social values and historical legacies of modern America) but it also alienates the authors from the average reader who, according to the statistics, are more likely to own two or three automobiles than none at all.

This is a shame, because the authors do wrap up the book with some solid advice for individual motorists who struggle with the all-too-common reality of feeling like their car owns them instead of the other way around. But it’s also telling that, once the authors are done dishing out advice to help Americans take charge in their personal relationship with the automobile and help address the larger issues around auto-dependence, it urges the reader to “get political” by lobbying for improved public transit, less car-friendly land-use policies and higher fuel efficiency standards.

Though its fair to include political advocacy at the end of Carjacked, most readers who make it through to the conclusion probably agreed with the book’s politics before they picked it up. Motorists who want to better understand the impacts of their personal relationship with the automobile (let alone the multiplied impacts of our national relationship with cars) without distracting wedge issues (Anthropogenic global warming and a section titled “why Rush Limbaugh likes sprawl” come to mind) will have to look elsewhere.

Ultimately, Carjacked is packed with perspectives that car lovers typically avoid, and unfortunately it gives them plenty of reasons to avoid it. Carjacked seems to have been written for people who already dislike and fear automobiles, rather than those who appreciate and use them most. Which is a minor tragedy, considering that the book is understandably unable to plot a clear course away from our dependence on private automobiles. Since even Carjacked‘s authors seem to admit that the automobile is here to stay, they probably should have focused their book more on the people who do love, appreciate and regularly use automobiles. Because love can be blind, but functional relationships are based on truly understanding the impacts of our own actions.

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54 Comments on “Book Review: Carjacked: The Culture of Automobiles And Its Effects On Our Lives...”


  • avatar
    Jeff Waingrow

    Ed, you’re mostly a clear and effective writer, but some of your usual concision has escaped you here. The last paragraph in particular is beyond parsing. I’ve read it several times and still can’t make sense of it. Did the book make you dizzy?

    • 0 avatar

      The short answer is yes. The point that I’m trying to make is this: many of the book’s facts are beyond dispute and all motorists should be conscious of them in order to be responsible consumers and operators of automobiles. Unfortunately, they’re presented in a way that will turn many motorists off because of the authors’ apparent desire to see the automobile disappear. In short, this book was written to confirm already-held anti-car views, rather than address the crisis of personal responsibility among motorists that I believe to be at the heart of most of the problems identified in the book.

  • avatar

    Regarding sprawl and traffic, the real culprit is explosive population growth in the US. The US population doubled between the ’50s and roughly 2005, growing by 150 million. It will reach nearly 440 million by 2050, according to the Census and the Pew Research Center. More than half of the growth in the last 50 years is due to mass immigration, and 82% of the growth over the next 40 will be due to mass immigration, according to Pew. This not only exacerbates traffic and sprawl, but it hurts the most deprived Americans (google compassion that hurts or go here: http://select.nytimes.com/2006/04/09/opinion/09kristof.html?_r=1

    Those who want to do something about this problem should go to numbersusa.com.

  • avatar

    I haven’t seen the book yet, but these authors had an anti-auto screed of an op-ed in the Boston Globe some months back. Here’s my reply, which you can also read on the Globe’s website, here:
    http://www.boston.com/bostonglobe/editorial_opinion/letters/articles/2009/05/09/vroom_not_doom_for_the_automobile/

    CATHERINE LUTZ and Anne Lutz Fernandez could have written their May 6 op-ed “Car crash: The death of the American auto” about housing (“Americans are junking their McMansions for cottages, and even leaving their dwellings altogether for the streets”), or plane travel, or any big-ticket item industry, because the enormous drop in car sales they’re observing is due to a major recession, not a disenchantment with this conveyance.

    Mass transit is not going to replace the car because, outside of Manhattan, under most circumstances, in most places, it is tediously slow compared to the car – and time is money. For a decade, I lived six blocks from the Red Line in Washington, D.C. I had one change to get to my doctor’s office downtown. I could drive or bicycle there in half the time it took on the Metro.

    Moreover, several experts, including Dan Sperling, head of the Institute for Transportation Studies at the University of California, Davis, have told me that mass transit is not a solution to climate change because it costs far too much per unit of carbon dioxide emissions avoided.

    As a professor of anthropology, perhaps Lutz could investigate why so many Parisians and Londoners drive despite their cities’ terrific subways and $9 a gallon fuel prices, or why the Chinese have been adopting automotive transport with such apparent enthusiasm. Such information might prove genuinely valuable to her apparent quest to get people out of cars. But this report of the automobile’s decline – apologies to Mark Twain – is greatly exaggerated.

    David C. Holzman
    Lexington

    • 0 avatar
      FleetofWheel

      Good point about the Chinese. If public transport were the better option, the Communist overlords could easily force the submissive populace to comply and the massive infrastructure necessary would still provide the industrial activity they seek.

  • avatar
    FleetofWheel

    Some investigative journalist should follow the authors closely and see if they practice what they preach.

    I’ll bet they are like most would-be philosopher kings, fully enjoying private car ownership while demanding the masses take the bus.

    On any given Earth Day, usually a balmy spring day, look at the parking lot in your office, store, school, etc. Notice how all the true-believers can’t force themselves to take public transit on even that one holy environmental day per year.

    • 0 avatar

      The authors include a personal anecdote about the difficulties of buying a Prius in the spring and summer of 2006 as evidence of the deceptive practices of car salesmen. Needless to say, supply and demand were the real culprits in their story, although the practices of car salesmen are certainly one good reason for motorists to stay well-informed.
      But yeah, at least one of the authors drives a Prius. In the conclusion the authors identify buying a hybrid or EV as a step individuals can take, although they contradict this advice by encouraging people to “buy a car that makes financial sense.” In most cases, hybrids make little more financial sense as an alternative to a standard sedan than, say, certain SUVs.

    • 0 avatar
      fincar1

      +1, FleetofWheel. I worked with a lady who was a big advocate of public transportation – letters to the editor, harping about it to her fellow League of Women Voters members and to us co-workers. She lived fifteen minutes’ walk from work, next to a bus stop, and her commuting mode was to have her husband drive her to work and pick her up.

  • avatar

    I remember reading Nader’s statement that driving costs $10/mile.
    And that was a long time ago. I was doubtful of his statement,
    but he kept on bringing up more and more items and factors that I,
    (as well as everyone else) had overlooked.

    I would like to find that quote again if anyone can help me.

    • 0 avatar
      MikeAR

      Ten dollars/mile cost to each individual driver or $10/mile cost to society? Either way it’s not true. If you drove 10,000 miles a year it would cost you $100,000 so the not vaild. And cost to society assumes a zero-sum game with no benefits from auto ownership and use such as jobs, retail sales and things like that. Nader is and was an old crank and these authors are more of the same.

  • avatar
    educatordan

    I think most of society (including me) could drive less and figure out how to pay less for the privilege. It’s a dirty rotten shame that most people see it as either or. Either public transit OR private vehicles, that’s not the way it has to be. Both are possible but I don’t know if that’s possible in our current political climate.

  • avatar

    Until we all live as densely as manhattanites or Parisians, public transit will be niche transportation. Experts on global warming see it as far too expensive a way to reduce ghg emissions.

    It does have value. For one thing, traffic would be all the more snarled in major metro areas without it. For another, some people need it, because they can’t drive, or hate to drive. But anyone who thinks public transit can replace cars generally has a vivid imagination.

    • 0 avatar
      James2

      “For one thing, traffic would be all the more snarled in major metro areas without it. For another, some people need it…”

      Not necessarily true. A few years back we had a bus drivers’ strike. The otherwise clueless traffic engineers rejiggered signal timing sequences to compensate for the predictable increase in car usage and traffic flowed BETTER than ever. Then the strike was concluded and the sequences went BACK to the old ways and traffic got worse–which is to say, went back normal.

      HNL also has one of the highest-use bus systems in the country and, somehow, bus riders managed to do without it for those few weeks. That’s not to say they could live without it forever, but they survived an extended period of time.

  • avatar
    crash sled

    No, I disagree, Mr. N. The authors don’t seem to be providing much practical help here, to any of car-haters, car-users or car-enthusiasts. This seems like more long editorializing and nannying, and the bit about “advertising” fooling all us dupes is the biggest clue, and identifies this as the classic rant of old.

    As a car-user, I can tell you that if the authors want to help us folks better shape our lives, and eliminate hassle, they would be FAR better serve us by speaking about the evils of home ownership, which sucks up FAR more of my time and energy than that consumed by my driving appliances, owned or leased. I daresay that this would be true for all but the enthusiasts.

    I haven’t been to the auto parts store in months, too bad I can’t say the same for the hardware store. And I hope that washing machine gearbox holds up a while longer. Daggone tree out front might not survive winterkill, either, and the floors all need work, not to mention the windows and roof. Now if you’ll excuse me, I have to go make a stop at Home Depot, then Lowes.

  • avatar
    jmo

    How would everyone feel if zoning decision moved us toward towns like this:

    http://www.planetware.com/i/photo/black-forest-d1364.jpg

    Dense housing surrounded by farmland/forrest rather than each house on it’s own 2 acre lot. You could still have a car, you just wouldn’t need to use it nearly as much.

  • avatar
    european

    besides the typical reasons (oil depletion, wars/killings for oil, polution etc)
    why driving, as much as the americans do, is bad is:

    fewer human interactions.

    most of the time you spend cocooned from the rest of the world either at home, at work/school or in your car. meeting and interacting with people is really difficult. thats why you’re turning into a facebook/twitter/peopleofwalmart culture.

    i mean, my god, while visiting peopleofwalmart regularly i noticed a damn lot of trannies/crossdressers!?!?!?!### WTF!

  • avatar
    CliffG

    Classify this in the “Nothing New Under the Sun” file. Strangely enough, this thought process was thoroughly eviscerated in Tom Wolfe’s famous book from the early ’70s called “From Bauhaus to Our House”. For whatever reason, socialists’ fascination with cramming all of us into apartment blocks and taking the train to work is a philosophy that goes back to the ’20s. And human nature keeps picking cars and single family residences (see: Poland post-Communism). What is the matter with us anyway?

    • 0 avatar
      jmo

      Again you could still have a single family home – just not as much sprawl.

      http://www.planetware.com/i/photo/black-forest-d1364.jpg

    • 0 avatar
      jmo

      http://static.panoramio.com/photos/original/4228516.jpg

      As another example – dense enough for some stores, doctor, dentist, barber, school, all within walking distance but everyone still in a single family home.

  • avatar

    @european: I think it’s more settlement patterns–suburban sprawl–than driving that isolates us. How many people talk to strangers on the subway or the bus? Additionally, I think all the facebook and computer stuff is more a cause of isolation than a result of isolation.

    • 0 avatar
      european

      actually i agree with you. but you folks outta make some new living arrangments. driving 30min to/from work or the grocery store living in such a way that you have to drive 30min to get to anywhere brings in alot of negative side effects.

      sorry for the mess but i wanted to strike this part out
      ” driving 30min to/from work or the grocery store”
      strike /strike or s /s dont work.

  • avatar
    BMWfan

    I think the backlash against cars will disappear as soon as plug in electric vehicles become the norm. The car as it exists today is such a complex machine, and requires too much costly maintenance, not to mention the pollution issues. Those of us that are on the planet right now are about to witness a revolution regarding the automobile. When electric cars replace the ICE completely, and very little pollution is being caused by them, most of the current arguments against current automobile technology will be moot. Can you imagine not having to visit your local stealership and being able to avoid the constant oil changes, fluid flushes, waterpump replacements, and whatever else your car requires? If your electric craps out, due to a bad motor, just drop in a new one.I don’t know if this will happen in my lifetime, but it is coming soon, and it will be a game changer.

  • avatar

    @BMWfan

    ***IF*** plug-ins replace ICE. I don’t see it happening within the next 20 years, although it might begin to happen in the mid to late ’20s. But even if it does, unless we stabilize the population, a lot of people are going to be pissed at cars, because the traffic will likely keep increasing. I think the things that bother people most about cars at the emotional level are the traffic, the noise, and the fact that so much of our urban agglomerations are not walkable.

  • avatar
    BMWfan

    @David Holtzman

    I agree. I live in an area that has no stores within walking distance. I am thinking of moving soon, and will not make that mistake again. I am tired of getting in and out of the car everytime I need something from the store. Hopefully the powers that be will begin to work on the mass transit issue soon, or as you mentioned there will be no place on the roadways for all the cars.

  • avatar
    jonny b

    I think you can reconcile being a car enthusiast with driving less. In my perfect world, I walk/bike/ride the train to work, walk to the supermarket, and drive a classic sportscar on the weekends to visit family and friends or just to clear my head. I’m actually not that far from reaching this goal. My ’97 328i is not quite a classic sportscar, and I drive to work in lousy weather. But I’m getting there.

  • avatar
    Neb

    You know, a famous 60s French director (might have been Truffaut) once said “the best way to criticize a movie is to make another movie.”

    Mr. Niedermeyer, you know what you must do.

  • avatar
    Martin Schwoerer

    All you need to make driving pleasurable is choice. Using the car for the wrong tasks is what makes driving miserable. Let me explain.

    To go shopping, I get on my bike. To visit friends or to go for a drink in the evening, I use my bike too. If I had to take a car, it’d be a hassle (traffic, time wasted looking for parking spaces) or dangerous (booze).

    To go to work I take my bike or public transport (when its raining badly). Driving wouldn’t make any sense for that, either.

    If I want to go for a hike with the dog in the woods, I take the car. It’s quick and comfortable and I don’t have to worry about a muddy dog bothering other people. Likewise I take the car for vacations (for flexibility) or for visiting my Mom (distance 20 miles, no good public transport).

    For business travel, I mostly take trains. They’re high-speed in Europe and I can get work done underway. If I had to drive I’d need a wide margin for punctuality and would probably arrive with frazzled nerves.

    A car is just a tool. You take it out of the box, use it and then put it back in. It’s not (it shouldn’t be) a lifestyle statement or something that rules your life. If for some reason I found myself spending more time than I wanted driving, then I’d say something is going wrong with my life, and I’d try to change it. Ain’t nobody gonna force me to move into the sticks.

    Oh and BTW thanks for the book review Ed, I think I’ll get it for myself.

    • 0 avatar
      Paul Niedermeyer

      +1
      The problem, Martin, is that by now multiple generations of Americans have grown up in cars, and simply have no conception of the lifestyle you describe. How does that change?
      If it’s through political means, than it the damn guvvinmint stealing my rights to spend my life in a car, and be obese, or out of shape.
      You can describe a better scenario, but like leading a horse to water, unless folks have actually tasted the difference, they won’t drink the water.
       

    • 0 avatar
      geeber

      This assumes that all of the desired stores, restaurants and entertainment venues are within walking or riding distance. Most of us don’t like to limit our choices to that extent.

    • 0 avatar

      A car is just a tool. You take it out of the box, use it and then put it back in. It’s not (it shouldn’t be) a lifestyle statement or something that rules your life.

      Wow, that’s the best way I’ve ever heard that summed up. Yes it’s a tool, that’s all.

      And you obviously have your tools straight. I am amazed that if I walk somewhere, people stop and ask if I want a ride like walking a block or two automatically means I’m in distress.

      John

    • 0 avatar
      Gottleib

      I find it interesting that “choice” is the operative word in much of this discussion regarding this book. That our culture of the automobile is a problem.

      Choice means freedom, freedom is one of the principles of our country and culture, therefore choice is the result of that freedom.

      To have freedom and choice for oneself demands that others also be afforded the same. Freedom also demands personal responsibility, our choices are our own and we are responsible for that which we choose.

      Personally I value my freedom and I take responsibly for my choices. I like to drive my car rather live in a congested city and use public transportation. I also respect others that want to exercise their freedom in other ways.

    • 0 avatar
      joeaverage

      The trouble is convincing adults that a bicycle is something more than a toy and in some areas (like mine) creating places a person can ride a bicycle safely. I’ve ridden seven miles to work but the sidewalk system was incomplete or it didn’t continue across dangerous intersections. I like riding my bike and it would do me alot of good (lose weight) but here and now it is dangerous.

      To me a bicycle is more convenient for my needs than a city bus. Our local gov’t has introduced two brand-new stimulus money city buses. My groups of friends and I have been watching and none of us has seen anyone riding them over a period of six weeks now. We’ve been watching at a variety of times day and night. How long will the local gov’t subsidizes these buses before they give up? I’d argue that the gov’t could have put in a nice bike path that splits the city right down the middle making everything convenient from the shopping district, restaurant row, the business district, and the university. What a shame. For the record I’d ride the bus if it met my schedule and destination. Currently it only comes 1/2-way to my house…

      I like the idea of choice too but am ready for our tax dollars to be spent on building and maintaining roads for cars and trucks, etc.

  • avatar
    ClutchCarGo

    I support public transit both as the socially right thing to do for those who can’t afford a car like I can, and as an inducement to keep more cars off the roads when I do drive. I use it myself (train heading downtown) whenever practicable (which is most times that I head downtown). I chose a home near my job to minimize my commute since I see time spent commuting as mostly wasted. I bike or walk to the nearest grocery store whenever possible (I ain’t riding a bike in the winter in the midwest) and would love to see more communities providing inducements to do likewise (such as good sidewalks and bike paths), both to reduce auto usage and to promote healthier citizens. But if these ladies think that most Americans are going to forsake cars and driving for any of the reasons noted in this review, they clearly have NOT been living in the same America that I live in.

  • avatar
    Dynamic88

    One of my brothers has never owned a car. He drives a company vehicle for work, but not to and from his home. He has always chosen to live close enough to work that he can walk. Think of the 10s of thousands – maybe closer to 100K- that he’s saved since the early ’80s by not ever buying a car.

    I don’t know that this is possible for most of us. Then again, maybe we haven’t tried very hard.

    Cars are certainly costly, but to achieve any real savings, one must make the choice of car/no car. If you have car in the garage while you’re riding your bike to work, you still pay insurance, yearly registration fee, and you still drive sometimes, because it’s there, so you’ve still got gas, oil, maintenance, tires, and so on. I ride to work in the summer because I really enjoy riding, but it’s not saving me any significant $.

    Some bicycle infrastructure would help, but it would have to be paid for by taxes, and so few people ride….. It’s a shame, because it’s personal transport, as opposed to mass transit. I believe with better infrastructure more people would ride, but what comes first ?

    @jmo, I’d love to live in such places.

    • 0 avatar
      Daanii2

      “I’d love to live in such places.”

      Then why don’t you? People always say they want to do something like that, when they could, but don’t. Why don’t they? Because they have to give up something they want. Utopia comes at a price.

      I haven’t read the book yet. But if both the authors of this book tell about how they do not own cars, I will give their views some respect. Otherwise, they are just telling us that the solution is to bell the cat.

    • 0 avatar
      Dynamic88

      Daanii2

      Perhaps you’d like to float me a loan for $200K? If living in certain places were no more difficult than choosing, I’d already have my mansion in Beverly Hills, complete with a Cee-ment pond.

      Perhaps you’d also like to arrange a job for me in my new local?

      Don’t take this personally, because it isn’t intended that way, but “Then why don’t you ?” is sort of a dumb question. But I’ll answer.

      First this sort of dense urban environment doesn’t exist anywhere near where I currently live.

      Second, if such a place exists in another corner of my state, or 3 states away, can I be sure of finding employment there? You may have heard that the national unemployment rate is rather high. Making matters worse, I’m 53.

      3rd, there must also be a new job for my wife -reread the paragraph above.

      4th, my traditional pension plan is not portable. I’m not young. I would not like to loose it and start over.

      Last but not least, my current home is paid for, so what I used to spend on mortgage payments is now money for either pleasure or investment.

      When a man is less than 15 years from retirement he has to think about keeping expenses down. This is not the time in my life to take on a new mortgage.

      Where we live depends on a lot of factors. It’s not as simple as seeing what you like and deciding to live there.

  • avatar
    jmo

    Then why don’t you?

    Because they don’t exist. If I bought 200 acres of land and wanted to build 200 houses on 1 acres lots, that would be fine in almost all parts of the country. If I wanted to build 200 houses on 20 acres of land, and some businesses (doctor’s office, dentist, barber, small supermarket, etc) and leave the remaining 180 acres as forest or farmland, that would be illegal.

    • 0 avatar
      Daanii2

      I see what you are saying. Good point.

    • 0 avatar
      geeber

      A reasonable facsimile of those places do exist. They are called “cities” or older suburbs.

      Harrisburg is a good example. It’s hardly a huge city (about 48,000 people in the city proper).

      But there are several types of neighborhoods within the Harrisburg metropolitan area.

      Those who seek urban living will find it in one of several neighorhoods of either rowhomes or older duplexes. Shopping and eating establishments, as well as the night life, are very close, or a bus ride away. The housing is either dense (duplexes) or very dense (rowhomes).

      Those who seek suburban living can find it one of the many townships and small towns that surround the city. They range from traditional small towns (Camp Hill, Hershey, Mechanicsburg) to more rural, undeveloped townships that feature subdivisions and shopping malls.

      Those who want rural living can find it about 20-30 minutes from the city center. These are areas where black bears roam through yards and the only sound at night is of crickets chirping.

      No one choice is “better” than the others. It’s up to each person to find what works for him or her.

      The people I see complaining are those who seem to think that there should be no trade-offs, or, that said trade-offs are somehow the fault of suburbanites, the car companies, Standard Oil, etc.

      They will say they would love to live in the city, and complain about life in the suburbs, and all of the cars on the road. But when asked why they don’t just move to the city, concerns regarding crime and higher taxes are voiced.

      Cities have been more crime-ridden for generations – long before the automobile appeared on the scene. And urban areas generally have higher taxes, for a variety of reasons – some good (more need for services) and some not so good (more graft and waste in govermment).

      People need to accept that all choices have trade-offs (would we express sympathy for someone who chooses to live in a rural area and then complains about having to drive everywhere?) and that Utopia has never existed, and never will exist.

    • 0 avatar
      Dimwit

      And Harrisburg is flirting with bankruptcy. People are fleeing to the suburbs.

      The elephant in the room that nobody mentions is affordability. Why do people do the 30 min commute? Everybody’s a masochist? Obviously not. Those “15 min walk to work” locations are *expensive* and a lot of time limited either in size, amenities or other considerations.
      We have to do the travel because that’s what is affordable and nothing will not make that so. Granted, there’s a lot of work to do educating and actually enforcing change on governmental and regulatory bodies to allow more efficient systems. The overwhelming fear of “community values” and “landowner value” has been the downfall of all these movements to make the sub and ex urbs more efficient and less sprawl. Look to the small house movement for more ideas.
      Even so, the naivety shown by the anti-car zealots is amusing at best and dangerous at worst because it won’t work. As been shown in the developing countries, car ownership is both a privilege and a major want and to ignore or to surpress it is fraught with peril. Until an efficient transportation method is devised that is cheap enough and convenient enough (transporter beam?) the car won’t be supplanted.

    • 0 avatar
      chuckR

      Its nice to talk about shops, restaurants and other services easily accessible from people’s homes. Zoning laws militate against that convenience just as they do against planned unit developments and the like. I lived for years in just such a walkable neighborhood. My wife worked close by but my drive commute was 25 miles each way. After kids, my wife worked out of our home and we moved closer to my work, in so doing losing the neighborhood conveniences – now all 4 miles away. Overall, it still cut our driving by at least a third.

  • avatar
    joe_thousandaire

    Excellent review, I can tell that I would have no interest in reading this book, as it would likely infuriate me. From the review it seems the book carries all the tenants of a typical anti-consumerist rant. Relentlessly blame the product, and those who market and sell it, without holding the purchaser to any responsibility (reducing individuals to mere pawns of these malignant forces as Ed nicely put it), and most importantly offering absolutely no working alternative what-so-ever. Very typical of modern punditry. I would have this to say to the authors your possessions always end up owning you. That is no new concept. Everything from Buddhism to Communism has dealt with that subject. In the end the real trick in a consumerist world is to simply choose your possessions very carefully. If you are ‘owned’ by a beautiful piece of functioning industrial art as cars can be at their best, your life might be better for it. Much more so than if you’re upside down on a loan for a POS,

  • avatar
    reclusive_in_nature

    I have an overlooked option that would definitely help with a lot of the issues that the authors probably didn’t touch on: Motorcycles. Cheap, reliable and extremely fuel efficient. Sure, you can’t always ride one when the weather’s bad, but that’s one con versus numerous pros. Here’s a few.

    1. They cost much less to own and operate than autos. Weather permitting (and where I live it permits about 70% of the year) I am able to own my v8 powered sedan and only spend about 63 bucks a month on fuel. ($60 for the car and $3 for the motorcycle)

    2. As a motorcycle owner I have to be more aware of my surroundings. This carries over to when I’m driving a car. I believe more motorcycle ownership would lead to safer drivers as well.

    3. More motorcycles mean less traffic. They take up less space, and it’s possible to pass other motorcyclists in the same lane.

    4. For the eco conscious there’s not many vehicles that can post sub 4-5 second 0-60 times and achieve 50-60 mpg.

    5. For those intimidated by clutches and gears there’s a large assortment of scooters with CVT transmissions and even a handful of automatic motorcycles. I know this is blasphemous in some circles, but I prefer taking my legs out of the riding equation so I can place more attention on enjoying the ride.

    6. I know it’d probably be just a flash in the pan, but an increasing amount of people seeking motorcycle endorsements for their licenses would contribute at least a little bit of revenue for our ailing state budgets.

    I disagreed strongly with Cash for Clunkers, but I could see myself getting behind a version that increased motorcycle ownership. Thoughts?

    • 0 avatar
      Dynamic88

      Thoughts?

      If you can’t ride it in bad weather, then it’s an additional expense, above and beyond the car that is still required.

    • 0 avatar
      joeaverage

      I’ve ridden motorcycles for years but whatever you choose consider the cost of repairs, tires and the added insurance of keeping a licensed vehicle like a motorcycle around if you don’t ride it. Tires may not last you 15K miles. Maybe half that on sport bikes.

      I enjoy my motorcycles. Sold my last one two nights ago and eventually will buy another but not b/c it is cheaper. A scooter might be cheaper though but avoid the Chinese generic brands! A coworker rides one and has trouble getting parts, a carb/gas cap that leaks, etc.

  • avatar
    kkt

    Motorcycles do have those advantages, but they’re much less safe. Friend was in the hospital for a year while they tried to save his leg, then had it amputated. Totally the car driver’s fault, but it is still the motorcyclist that suffers for it. Any car, even a poorly rated one, and he would have had only minor injuries.

    And then there’s the rain and snow.

  • avatar
    DweezilSFV

    Sorry. I am not buying it. My choice to live where I live and drive what I drive is predicated on what I can afford and will improve my quality of life. If that means living in the Valley [in what was once a \"suburb\"] and having a commute, then that is what I will do.

    Would have loved to have lived closer to my job, but got sick of the noise, lack of space, parking, inconvenience, bums and freaks in the “hip and trendy urban walkable” neighborhood where I had my first condo.Same with the apartment I rented a few blocks from work.Dealing with assholism up close and personal on a daily basis did not improve my life.It detracted from it. I guess I am supposed to tolerate all that crap for the “common good” right? Hang what I want.

    “Interacting” with my asinine busy body neighbors on far too intimate a basis after “interacting” with people all day long finally took it’s toll and I looked for my own house where I wasn’t forced to live the social engineer’s and urban planner’s dream, but my own.

    As far as “cost to society”: I am not a unit of production for the state. My neighborhood benefits from the roots I have put down and the investment I have made in it. The shops and businesses I use in my city benefit as does the tax base.

    I have more than repaid my “cost to society” via my property taxes, gas taxes, bond issue obligations placed on my property for public transit and schools [and I don\'t have children] and all sorts of other crap my renter neighbors have decided I can afford to pay, but they don’t have to. Gotta love that sense of “community” and “interaction”.

    Add in the fact that I have assumed the financial risk, the committment to a “community”, that if I have to commute 15 miles to my job, the reward is still far greater than the cost of spending time “isolated” from “others” in traffic. That time is golden and just as valuable as if I were sitting at home.

    I know it drives the social engineers and urban planner nannies nuts, but my life is much improved over living that “urban,walkable neighborhood utopian” lifestyle. Being ‘”owned by my automobile” works out to my benefit. Go figure. Damn why won’t I just do what they want me to do, live the way they think I should. Such a caveman.

    Btw: my house is less than 1000 square feet, for the first 10 years I used a clothesline to dry my clothes, I don’t require a new car be made for me every 3 years and when I do it’s a compact sized one [and not an SUV] with good mileage because I am cheap, combine shopping trips with trips home from work, hit the grocery store once a month and rarely drive anywhere on Saturdays or Sundays, or at least 1 day a week.

    And I have 2 other cars as well. Their cost is worth it to me as they are as much hobbies as they are “tools”. They are the where I chooce to spend my money as opposed to golf, fine dining, chasing women [or men], doing drugs, chasing the latest electronic gadgets, or in futile attempts to “interact” with my neighbors by impressing them with my gourmet kitchen or the latest automotive vulgarity.

    I’ve paid my dues. And it’s about choices and trade offs. But then we’re all so mindless we just blindly become people of Walmart, aimlessly driving about getting in the way of our betters.

    These two can piss off.If they had their way we’d only be able to operate our electric carriages with someone walking along 100 yards in front of us waving a red flag to warn the horses.

    • 0 avatar
      Gottleib

      Amen, more power to you and those that can think and act responsibly as you do.

    • 0 avatar
      PartsUnknown

      Dweez – great rant. Love it.

      I’ve lived on both sides of this issue. I lived in Boston for 7 years and walked 10 minutes to grad school and then after graduation, to work. I had a car, but used it only on weekends to go skiing, beach etc. I owned a small 1 bedroom condo – 575 square feet – and life was good. Everything – groceries, beer, restaurants, movies, banks, did I say beer? – was right around the corner. I also had homeless guys sleeping on the front steps, hideous maintenance issues endemic to 100 year old buildings, noisy (and nosy) neighbors, sirens at 3:00 a.m., etc.

      Got married, had kids – and the primary driver behind our decision to move to the burbs – and endure a 1 hour commute – was affordability. At least in eastern Mass., you need money – real money – to live well in the city. It’s easy for people to say “Just get a job near where you live” and “Take the bus”, but it’s rarely that easy. People (esp. families) of average means who work where the jobs are (Boston) have to live well outside the city to have a decent standard of living.

      We live in a modest 3 bedroom, 1750 square foot house with 2 kids and a dog. I have to drive to get the Globe and donuts for the kids on Saturday mornings. My commute (by car and train) is just over an hour. I drive a 4 cylinder, 14 year old Saab as a commuter and my wife has a reasonably efficient crossover/wagon to ferry kids and dog to and fro.

      Point is: there are compromises involved in choices like these, and certain realities that fly in the face of someone’s idea of utopia.

    • 0 avatar
      RogerB34

      Problem is that the commute emotional pressure mounts as years go by and sooner for most, they regret the choice.

  • avatar
    ra_pro

    Geography (and demography) are people’s and countries’ destiny. The reason why people in NA live in the suburbs and why the suburbs even exist in the first place is that there is a lot of land available and usually it’s not too expensive as it is in Europe. A lot of land means lower house prices and bigger houses. Since everything is a bit bigger (houses, offices, streets etc) it translates into large distances when everything is added up. This makes it a necessity to own a car. It’s impossible to live without it otherwise a simple chore becomes a half-day expedition.

    When I go to visit my parents in Europe I can live there for weeks (with the whole family) without a car and indeed many people do. Any way you look at it the car is just completely superfluous for many people in Europe and in fact is a pure luxury item and/or matter of prestige, a gadget that makes ones life a touch more out of the ordinary. Yet most families (I estimate) do own at least one. This book would make a lot more sense if written for the European public.


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