Saturday, December 15, 2007

Cars Are The Problem With Snow

It's cars and snow that don't mix that makes Clevelanders dislike our winter weather.  Imagine your favorite neighborhood shopping district, otherwise known as a functioning, lively, and organic neighborhood.  Imagine walking down the sidewalk window shopping or bar hopping or friendly talking......  That's a really nice feeling to recall, isn't it?
Now recall that feeling with a gentle breeze and a snow fall.  A bit cold around the ears and nose, are ya!?  All the more excuse to stop in and say hello to a neighbor merchant and order a cup of joe; retreat for a bit only to gather some steam and plunge back out to the snowy sidewalks of your neighborhood......lights twinkling, beers drinking, community linking. 

Now stop thinking of that.

Consider this scene instead.  You're driving your trusty steed (your automobile) to your favorite shop/pub/parlor.  It's warm and cozy in your car and all is well, though admittedly, it's a bit difficult to see out the window.  It's snowing afterall.   No matter, you're warm and cozy and speeding along (relatively, it's snowing afterall) to your destination.  You wish you could go faster, but alas the roads are slippery and it's hard to see.  But wait, there's help around the corner.  You see a flashing siren and the  the spray of salt comes barreling at your windshield.  'We're saved', you think.  Everything's okay - full speed ahead.  

And therein lies the problem.  

Monday, October 22, 2007

Social Ideology of the Motorcar

I picked up this booklet, written in 1973, at an event celebrating the car-free lifestyle while I was living in Chicago in 2002. It seems that the idea of being car-free is something that is only considered in places that possess lively streets where people really do live, work, and play. Here in Cleveland, I think we are still working on creating those neighborhoods.

But, if we can advance to the time when those neighborhoods are already in existence, we will come to realize that the car is actually a barrier to creating a livable place. And we will begin to advocate for places where cars are simply not allowed.
In order to get you to that frame of mind now, I encourage you to read this manifesto, 'Social Ideology of the MotorCar by André Gorz. I've copied one of my favorite passages below, but you can download the entire manuscript for free, right here.

"The worst thing about cars is that they are like castles or villas by the sea: luxury goods invented for the exclusive pleasure of a very rich minority, and which in conception and nature were never intended for the people. Unlike the vacuum cleaner, the radio, or the bicycle, which retain their use value when everyone has one, the car, like a villa by the sea, is only desirable and useful insofar as the masses don't have one. That is how in both conception and original purpose the car is a luxury good. And the essence of luxury is that it cannot be democratised. If everyone can have luxury, no one gets any advantages from it. On the contrary, everyone diddles, cheats, and frustrates everyone else, and is diddled, cheated, and frustrated in return.

This is pretty much common knowledge in the case of the seaside villas. No politico has yet dared to claim that to democratise the right to vacation would mean a villa with private beach for every family. Everyone understands that if each of 13 or 14 million families were to use only 10 meters of the coast, it would take 140,000km of beach in order for all of them to have their share! To give everyone his or her share would be to cut up the beaches in such little strips-or to squeeze the villas so tightly together - that their use value would be nil and their advantage over a hotel complex would disappear. In short, democratisation of access to the beaches point to only one solution-the collectivist one. And this solution is necessarily at war with the luxury of the private beach, which is a privilege that a small minority takes as their right at the expense of all.

Now, why is it that what is perfectly obvious in the case of the beaches is not generally acknowledged to be the case for transportation? Like the beach house, doesn't a car occupy scarce space? Doesn't it deprive the others who use the roads (pedestrians, cyclists, streetcar and bus drivers)? Doesn't it lose its use value when everyone uses his or her own? And yet there are plenty of politicians who insist that every family has the right to at least one car and that it's up to the "government" to make it possible for everyone to park conveniently, drive easily in the city, and go on holiday at the same time as everyone else, going 70 mph on the roads to vacation spots."

Thursday, September 06, 2007

When Cleveland Walks, Cleveland Benefits!

As Cleveland and her neighborhoods move forward with ever more housing projects, it is critical that we advocate for non-automotive connections between places. A region wide policy for 'complete streets' would be a great start, though there is certainly much more planning work to do!

Since all great plans and visions need inspiration, have a look at what has been accomplished in Portland, OR in the last two decades..

Thursday, January 25, 2007

Cleveland's Sound Garden

Did you know Sound Garden was named after a the Sound Garden public park in Seattle? Me neither. Not until my my most recent visit to Seattle when I saw it on a map and asked. Apparently, it's a public art installation that creates sound as wind passes through it and is located within the larger Magnuson Park. The winds are likely generated by the junction of land and Lake Washington.

Well, guess what Cleveland?

After walking, biking, and generally being blown around our very own north coast harbor which includes the under-used public areas surrounding the rock'n'roll hall of fame, great lakes science center, steam-ship Mather, I've come to the easy conclusion that we've got the blowing air resources to create our very own rock'n'roll sound garden. Why not have a high school/university contest to create temporary sound sculptures to float in the inner harbor that harness the kinetic wind energy and transform it into sound and light sculptures? With all this talk of wind turbines in our dear Lake Erie the deficiencies in math and science education, this idea seems like a win-win no-brainer!