Fifty years from now, will mobility today look more like it did 100 years ago? I think about this a lot. Not that anyone sees horses reappear, but it seems like a win-win for all but the car companies and Big Petrol if the urban landscape is filled with bikes, pedestrians, and other forms of micro-mobility — and if we have any sense, Much Fewer cars.
If we had no sense… I remembered an interview circa 2010 with a proponent of self-driving cars in Silicon Valley who envisioned the capsules small enough to be driven into a building and straight into an elevator. I couldn’t imagine anything less healthy.
Fewer Cars is the future Canadian technology writer Paris Marxauthor The Road to Nowhere: What Silicon Valley Is Wrong About the Future of TransportationImagine – Elon Musk Won’t Save Us!
Online, Silicon Valley has provided us with useful and popular services, but at the cost of a proliferation of data and surveillance that increasingly entrenches rather than challenging existing power structures. Marks cautions that the same is rooted in Big Tech’s approach to mobility, which enshrines the preferences of fast, single-occupancy cars of a small elite of wealthy men over the needs of the rest of us.
Electric cars are less harmful to the environment than their fossil fuel counterparts – but they still are cars, with all the congestion, the existential dangers to pedestrians and cyclists, and the resource demands involved. Silicon Valley loves to change the world — but only in certain ways to serve a certain few. The problem with cars isn’t just human drivers. The problem with cars is cars.
Marx highlights the many ways in which automobiles have been normalized, subsidized, and assimilated, and explores the choices that have displaced them. Bicycles, which allowed women greater freedom, were pushed to make way, new dangers forced pedestrians off the streets and, in some cases, subtle design choices embedded in antisocial values such as racism deep within public infrastructure.
Circa 1960, for example, an urban scheme in New York Robert Moses Bridges in the Southern State Parkway across Long Island were ordered to build very low for buses as a way to exclude poor, black bus passengers from Jones Beach. At about the same time, planners built urban highways to zoning zoning they considered an “urban scourge,” regardless of residents’ wishes or the longevity of their communities.
As Marks explains, today’s auto-dominated world was not an inevitable consequence of consumer choice, but rather an imposition on Americans. Making cars electric and/or self-driving — which, he wrote, turned out to be much more difficult than technologists expected, as well Christian Walmar predictions for 2018 – None of this changes.
Marx’s book has a special resonance with other recent readings. His discussion of normalizing millions of traffic deaths resonates with Jesse Single No accidents, which argues that calling death or injury an “accident” is a way to take responsibility away from the design choices that create the conditions for “accidents” to occur. The second is Douglas Rachkoff’s new book, survival of the richestwhere Silicon Valley billionaires plan to escape from the rest of us after the disaster.
It is this isolationist thinking that Marx especially deplores when he outlines his hopes for urban environments in which we, the people, can reclaim our streets.
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