The War on Cars

E-mail debates of newsworthy topics.
Jan. 29 1998 3:30 AM

The War on Cars

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       I will understand your argument about cars better when I understand what evidence--not numbers, perhaps, but at least a systematic body of facts--you have to support your statement that America has become "a national automobile slum" in which our public life has been "degraded." Which places--you mention "thousands"--now exist that "are not worth caring about"?
       I agree with you that numbers don't capture the car. To me its great advantages are privacy, convenience, mobility, and carrying capacity. I think the overwhelming majority of car users agree that these are its advantages; that is why they buy and drive them.
       From what public testimony or personal experience do you derive your conclusion that a "car-centered living dystopia" afflicts us? It doesn't afflict me, or anybody I know. Does it afflict you?
       I agree that cities are important to civilization. But unlike you, I am struck by how many people live in or otherwise enjoy cities. A few have become empty social holes, but the cities I know best--Los Angeles, New York, San Francisco, Boston, San Diego, Washington, among others--are not that at all. In fact, the greater use of cars has, in a way, revitalized these places. The reason? Once people can and do leave cities, cities must reconstitute themselves to lure people back. That is what many cities have done. Suburbs have grown as well, supported by cars. Now people have a choice--they can live in cities or on the outskirts of cities. The freedom they have thereby acquired strikes me as more valuable than whatever policies you would support that would induce (lure? compel?) people to live in cities.

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