I grew up in Lake Orion, Michigan, a suburb of the massive Metro Detroit urban sprawl. If you didn’t own a car, you were a loser. Yet, the city I call my hometown was once a train trip to Detroit and it used to be a vacation spot for wealthy Detroiters. The town was a resort, and people walked everywhere. Then the Car came and changed all of that.

“When I actually looked into the history record, documents from the time, I found just the opposite,” Norton says. “What Americans in cities wanted in the ‘20s was to get the cars out.”

Media at the time recount pedestrians ranting against the automobile as an intrusion and an undemocratic bully. Newspapers contained cartoons portraying rich drivers in luxury cars running over working-class kids. Three-quarters of traffic fatalities at the time were pedestrians.

It’s time people took back our cities and towns and demote the car to just another means of travel. The Love Affair With the Car was a marketing gimmick to shove the Interstate System down unwilling throats be convincing people that what they had believed in was wrong.

Neighborhoods were destroyed so that cars can move real fast.

Our cities were very livable before the car, and pedestrians were the true master of the streets. Only in special districts do you see scenes reminiscent of days gone by.

State Street in Chicago, photographed in 1903 by Underwood & Underwood. Library of Congress Prints and Photographs Division

Then there is this “war on cars”.

“It’s the history that gives us the assumptions that limit our choices,” he says. History reminds us the car-dominated city wasn’t the inevitable path of progress, but one path among others not taken. History also teaches us that we should be skeptical of the power of 21st century stories in the tradition of the American “love affair with cars” — like the narrative today that urban elitists who advocate for other forms of transportation are waging a “war on cars.”

There’s no war on cars, it’s a war on people. Profit before people, cars before pedestrians. Cities and towns are for people, not cars.

Who Needs Cars? Smart Mobility Can Make Cities Sustainable.

We can either continue to build car-oriented cities that lock in these unsustainable patterns, or we can scale up existing models for creating more inclusive, accessible and connected cities. Pursuing smarter urban mobility options can help growing cities leapfrog car-centric development and adopt strategies that boost inclusive economic growth and improve quality of life.

Older cities were very walkable.On the Strong Town’s blog, they discuss how our current experiment with auto-centric development of cities and suburban areas is one we can’t afford to do anymore.

This, of course, changed with the advent of the automobile, a technology that became ubiquitous in America following World War II. Over the past two generations, we have reshaped an entire continent to accommodate this new technology, from interstates to connect our cities to the streets within them. We developed new building types, new ways of arranging things on the landscape and new standards for building and financing this new way of building, all from scratch, all within a very short period of time.

We’ve become slaves to this metal creature living in our driveways. Cars don’t set you free, they chain you down. You don’t walk as much, don’t mingle with people on the street as often, and it cocoons you from the outside world to the point were we have to make laws to remind you that there are other people outside your car.

Our auto-oriented development experiment, now in its third generation, has allowed the United States to experience decades of robust growth. Despite this success, our cities and states – big and small, led by liberals and conservatives alike – are now struggling to find the money to do basic functions. Simple things like maintain sidewalks, fix potholes and keep public safety departments adequately staffed. How can this be?

The answer is that, in this new and enticing model, we’ve sacrificed resiliency for growth. In the pursuit of jobs and economic development, American cities have spread themselves out beyond their abilities to financially sustain themselves. All those roads, all that sidewalk, all those pipes….they are really, really expensive. We’re starting to understand that building it all was the easy part. Maintaining it generation after generation is hard.

And now, as budgets everywhere are frayed, our leadership obsessively seeks – in true Ponzi scheme fashion – more and more growth using this same, experimental model.

We need to maintain the roads we have already.

From the Strong Towns blog: No New Roads:

Minnesota’s legislative session begins tomorrow and, like many states throughout the union, front and center on the agenda is transportation spending. From this weekend’s edition of the Star Tribune:

“Anybody who travels around the state knows our highways are in worse condition, our traffic congestion is getting worse, public transit is far behind other parts of the country and world in terms of its adequacy and efficiency,” [Minnesota Governor Mark] Dayton said in an interview. “I can guarantee that if we don’t make it better, it’s going to continue to get worse.”

Making it “better” means, of course, spending more money. There is no talk of reform. There is nobody really asking how we got in such a difficult financial situation. The only question under consideration is the one I outlined in my latest book, A World Class Transportation System: How do we get more money to continue doing more of the same thing?


This is our system: one big Ponzi scheme attempting to prop up a 1950’s development extravaganza of strip malls, big box stores, fast food and cheap residential housing. You want to spend more on this?

Sunday’s Star Tribune indicated that current funding levels put us “$21.2 billion short” of what is needed “just to keep Minnesota’s current system functioning, never mind expanding it.” How about we just try that for a while? What would it actually mean to just to keep our current system functioning?

What would it mean to try and get more out of our current investments before we added more?

When a group of high school juniors signed up for a shop class, they didn’t realize they’d be building real buildings that their community desperately needs.

How Bertie County Teens Built A Farmers Market Pavilion

The Windsor Super Market ©Studio H

The Farmery

What if you could grow and sell food in the same place? What would that look like? That is the radical idea behind Ben Greene’s innovative sustainable agriculture project, called The Farmery.

Considering how far our food has to travel to get from the field where it is grown in, to a retail shelf for purchase, and the amount of energy used in this process, this is one of those things that can leave you wondering what we’ve lost. Mainly our connection to the actual way food is grown and processed.

Current attempts to meet the demand for locally grown organic food within the national food distribution network have largely failed. There is not enough locally gown organic food to meet the demand because it is very difficult for grocery stores to manage the inconsistent supply of locally grown food and it is difficult for new growers to find the stepping stones to financial success.  Grocery store marketing of locally grown food remains mundane with nothing more than simple signage, resulting in an identical shopping experience to conventional food, where it is left to compete on price. This retailing system makes it difficult for local growers to differentiate their product from produce sourced nationally from large, industrial farms.

– The Farmery

Greene and his investors envision a new way of buying food in their concept of greenhouse/grocery. It uses a collection of stacked shipping containers, vertical planters and a modular greenhouse structures. In his prototypes, Greene is already growing a significant amount of food as he tests his concept.

As we live more and more in cities, the idea of urban farms is appealing, and maybe more practical if variations on the Farmery are implemented in cities around the country. Find out more about this concept at their website: The Farmery

Are Driverless Cars Legal?

One potential for a totally autonomous vehicle are auto-share systems, where you use an app on your phone, the nearest available car pulls up, and drives you to your destination. Weight sensors would let the car know that you have a package or a bag of groceries on a seat and remind you to take it with you. Basically, you wouldn’t have to own a car, but you’d still be able to use one when needed.

The cars would be in constant use, and if they are electric, reducing pollution. The cost of ownership is substantially reduced and there would be fewer cars on the road.

Where Cars Do Not Roam… In America

Cycling about on Mackinac Island

Mackinac Island, Michigan is a carfree tourist destination in the Straits of Mackinac, between Lakes Michigan and Huron. I remember when I was a child, spending a week on Mackinac Island. We rode bikes, horses, and spend a lot of time eating fudge. Of course, riding bikes is a good way to burn off that fudge.

But seriously, Mackinac Island is a prime example of how one can live without cars and still have a comfortable standard of living.

Geoff Dyer has written a blog post “Walkable streets: Considering common issues

One-way couplets

One-way couplets around parks can present lane width challenges. (Mike Holmes’ Wind Walk in Southern Alberta.)

In it, he emphasizes that one should design for lower, not higher, speeds. Even though it’s by no means carfree, if his design approach is widely implemented, traffic speeds will fall and pedestrian fatalities will decline significantly. It’s not the solution, but it’s a step along the way.

A Low Impact Woodland Home

A hobbit's houseSimon Dale and his father in-law decided to build their home as inexpensively as possible. So they used natural material and what they could find to build home for Simon’s family of 4. According to Simon:

This building is one part of a low-impact or permaculture approach to life. This sort of life is about living in harmony with both the natural world and ourselves, doing things simply and using appropriate levels of technology. These sort of low cost, natural buildings have a place not only in their own sustainability, but also in their potential to provide affordable housing which allows people access to land and the opportunity to lead more simple, sustainable lives.

I’ve always been a fan of underground homes, and this is the perfect example of how locally sourced materials and ingenuity can make an affordable and livable home. Sadly, in the States, it would almost be impossible to get the necessary building permits and variances to build such a home. It would not meet code standards set in stone here in the Puget Sound. Still, it’s a great idea.