Stop Signs

Cars and Capitalism on the Road to Economic, Social and Ecological Decay
Yves Engler and Bianca Mugyenyi

The authors of the book are Canadians, who have the idea of travelling around the US and looking at how the car dominates economic and social life.  They echo many of the experiences I have in Australia living without a car. They also give a wealth of information about the effects cars have on our society, from many different perspectives, but I would say the one which resonates most is how unfriendly and isolating they are on urban culture.

People need this sort of information, they need a counter-narrative to the status quo that cars are OK.  We've largely given over our cities to the automobile, more out of laziness than convenience, without questioning if it is a good thing or not for our souls or our culture.  The car is the emblem of thoughtless capitalist culture, and we need to rethink its place in our lives.

Coming back to Brisbane, Australia after living in London for a few years was a bit of an automotive culture shock. The landscape of Brisbane and the lives of its people have always been based around cars (since I moved here in the mid 90s), but in the few years I had been gone, a conservative politician had taken parts of this to the next level, creating massive tunnels, extra bridges and elevated freeway ramps reminiscent of Los Angeles.

Then there was the change in my perceptions, having worked in London with teams of people where nobody drove to work, suddenly I was in a team of people where everyone drove to work.  Even perfectly able people who lived within 10 minutes walking distance. There seem to be more cars on the road than ever, the air seems more polluted, and it's rare to walk past another pedestrian of driving age on a suburban street not dressed for jogging or walking their dog.

Having conversations with people, the topic of the car just comes up constantly, and people can't believe you would take a holiday, even to nearby places well serviced by public transport, without a car. I find myself constantly reminding people that mass ownership of the automobile is a relatively recent phenomenon, they seem to think our ancestors climbed down out of the trees into a waiting fleet of convertibles.

Being confronted by this so many times each day, I wanted to write an article about how negative cars are in our society, and with this book, I found the right place to start.

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