Hammer Time: The Misguided Dream?

Steven Lang
by Steven Lang

I keep on having this one strange dream. I open my front door. The driveway is completely gone. The street is gone. In fact, there isn’t a single piece of asphalt anywhere. What was once the road is now just grass with a few basketball and tennis courts on the far side. There’s a softball field hidden in seclusion along with a volleyball court, a small library, and an arts and crafts center. While wandering even further, past several other asphalt-free houses, I finally come onto a single road. I see about a half dozen vehicles nearby available for everyone. All of them old, but in good running order. Is this a good thing?

As much as I love cars, I can see a time where driveways and garages will simply be considered wastes of space. This obviously won’t be a turn in history that is brought to you by government intervention or politics du jour. Simply put, priorities are changing. For most folks the cost of car ownership has become a burden and the lack of walkable space has been troubling.

As an enthusiast, I obviously see the value in owning what we love. Frugality and fun are pretty much what I write about when it comes to cars. But after twenty years of enthusiasm I am also getting burned out on the idea. So here’s my thought. Would you be willing trade in the garage and driveway for a variety of amenities you could walk to?

Steven Lang
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  • Highway27 Highway27 on Nov 15, 2009

    I would love to see less trips, less length on trips, and less pavement. I don't know if we'll ever get to that point of no road in front of your house, but I think it could (and should) be smaller. I think we don't even need paved sidewalks, but could either share the road or use some sort of stabilized pervious surface. There are things I think could help move toward that. Even more people working from home. If you're not doing that, then people living near work, and working near home. Perhaps more things like delivery of groceries would help - one of the main arguments I keep seeing against people giving up cars is that they don't want to have to go to the food market every day (which is smart, because that's when you spend the most). I don't think people should be forced into any of this, tho. I think that there will be plenty of people who find this sort of life very attractive, and would like to live it. Unfortunately, they're hosed up by all sorts of government crap. Government zoning keeps us from having narrower roads, smaller communities. Government site development requirements require those huuuuuge parking lots that only fill up one day a year (if that). It should be something that's possible, and available if people want it. We don't need any Rush Red Barcheta-like pogroms against cars. But if people want to live like that, why force them to have a car because of laws?

  • JuniperBug JuniperBug on Nov 15, 2009

    I live in Montreal, a city of about 3.5 million if you count the suburbs, and don't own a car. I live in the city and work out by the airport (which is obviously outside of the downtown area), and as much as I'd like to have one, I've concluded that a car just isn't worth the hassle and money for my current situation. Street parking is a huge hassle in the winter, I'd get to watch whatever I buy rust away because of all the salt the city spreads on the roads, and I'd be spending at least $600/month in payments, insurance, plates, maintenance, and gas just in order to save maybe an hour a day on my commute in the winter time. Instead I pay $65/month on a bus/metro pass that lets me easily get to anywhere I need to be downtown, and listen to music or language tapes on my MP3 player. In the summer I've got the choice of an hour long bicycle ride along a beautiful bike path by the canal, or a 20 minute motorcycle ride, which I can park for free almost anywhere and store over the winter. It also cost as much to buy as a beater car would have, but will do 30+ MPG and run 0-60 in 3.5 seconds. It is a blast for runs into the country, too, and will likely be seeing a bit of track duty in the future as well. All that doesn't keep me from wanting a Miata or Prelude as a "practical" "winter" car, though.

  • Timotheus980 Timotheus980 on Nov 15, 2009

    I wish I could work from home. My job consists of the phone and the internet, both of which I happen to have at home along with a decent office space. Every time the subject is brought up at work they won't hear of it. They claim it is more expensive than providing us an office, a computer, an internet connection, heat, electricity, etc. Hogwash. All of which I would gladly provide for myself in exchange for the luxury of not having to spend $200 a month on gas alone, miles and wear and tear on my car, driving for 45 mins both ways, dealing with the traffic jams and idiots on the road. For those of you about to tell me to live closer to work, I cannot afford the real estate. If you plopped my house within a 10 min drive from my work place you would add at least $100k to the price tag. So until my income goes up or I can convince someone that work from home is a good idea, I am stuck in commuter hell.

  • R H R H on Nov 15, 2009

    I've lived in Chicago for about 90% of my life and I now live 35 miles outside of the city. Under current circumstances, I'd never go back. Too much population density, slow public transportation, high property prices, high taxes & a high criminal/sq mile ratio is why I left. Now that I live in suburbia (about 1/2 way between Chicago & Milwaukee), you simply need a car. There are very few, infrequent busses and only one train line nearby (goes to Chicago). Taking public transport, assuming there was no wait for anything would add 30 minutes+ each way to my commute. A more realistic scenario would be 45-1hour (more than doubling my commute). With that being said, I'm 1 stop sign & 1 stoplight from a major expressway (1.2 miles). 1.1 miles from a gas station that is typically $0.30+ cheaper per gallon than Chicago. I'm about 3-4 miles from the parking lot of one of the largest (if not the largest) shopping centers in the state. To live "near work" in a smaller house than I have now would cost me 3x as much, I wouldn't have as big a garage and my building would be 10' from my neighbors. I am 15-20 min driving from Wisconsin if I want to do my shopping there. I have both nature preserves & public parks w/in 5 minutes walking. Everything else someone would need would be within about 15 minutes driving. I'm in a subdivision with no HA fees and I pay ~ 2% less tax on everything than chicago. Every single place I want to shop at has free parking. I can car pool with my wife 3 days per week in the city & can work from home two days per week (which I rarely do as I usually like the drive....) Why would I ever go back?