The primacy of cars.
The primacy of cars. Two recent articles got us thinking about how the unspoken primacy of cars in the public realm is starting to be questioned in a serious way. For example, the conception of parking in the public imagination is undergoing a seismic shift: from “why isn’t there ‘enough’ parking"” to ‘who decided that free private car storage was a legitimate use of the shared public realm?’ Take the New York Times, whose Style section offered the observation:
City street parking should be considered public space. The current setup is ridiculous: In front of millions of New Yorkers’ apartments, for one example, there are 9-by-18-foot plots of space, available to anyone in the city … ifthey have a car and want to leave it there. Less than half of the city’s residents own cars, and far fewer can lay claim to any kind of outdoor space. So from Fort Worth to Philadelphia, why not let people use these patches of cement for something they can actually enjoy? Let people set up a table with some food, a little grill, a folding table to sit at and enjoy the sun, and each other. Make space next to the sidewalk. Hatch 10,000 tiny little public spaces in cities that are starved for some life.
Or, more pointedly, listen to alt-weekly Willamette Week’s Dr. Know (aka Marty Smith) take in response to a letter worrying that more apartments in a downtown neighborhood will just slow traffic by increasing the number of pedestrians looking to cross crowded streets:
… the tacit assumption that “traffic” means, exclusively, people in cars [is a] concept is so thoroughly baked into our culture that you don’t even notice it, like the water in a Spongebob cartoon. Pedestrians can’t be traffic—they’re the enemy of traffic! They mill about in the crosswalk, like cattle, and make us late for stuff. Besides, if they were going anywhere important, they’d be in a car.
If we think about that space in the street as something other than subsidized, first-come-first-served private car storage, and we regard people walking on the street as equal, not subordinate, to vehicles, maybe we can reverse some of the damage that’s been done to the public realm in the past century.