Without a Plan: Rethinking Suburban Greeness

by Green Jobs Ready on February 25, 2011

The United States and other industrial nations, such as those of the United Kingdom, have long lacked adequate transportation plans. Their current plans ignore public transportation and manual transportation, such as walking and bike riding. Instead they promote the freedom that comes from personally owned cars. But, with the oil crisis and peak oil looming it is time to reexamine our relationship to these metal beasts in order to understand how to overcome our car addictions.

Earlier this month on this blog we did a two day report on advancements in green transportation. We tried to show ways that people could rethink the way they did everyday traveling, to work, school, or to the grocery store. What these blogs didn’t touch on was the role of cars in American culture at large, and how these make this facet of the environmental movement hard for some to embrace.

Few cities in the United States have friendly public transport systems. Luckily for many people who read this blog, a city like San Francisco happens to be one of the places where you can get around without a car. However, the more quintessentially American place to live is the suburban sprawl that requires of its inhabitant to own a car to get anywhere, but their neighbors. If you ask most young Americans what their cars mean to them many will reply freedom.  This is because cars have become associated with adulthood and individuality. In a culture where individual identity, the car you own, is considered infinitely more important than a collective identity, public transportation, the personal freedom of a car that a car offers is very important. You can own a car before you can do just about anything else, including voting or drinking. It is a gateway into adulthood for many of us growing up; it gives you the freedom to move whenever you want.

However the feeling that comes with owning a car is reinforced by our urban planning. We live in a manner so spread out that it takes many of us fifteen minutes to walk to a minimart, or store of any kind. In the suburbs the world is not closed without a car, but too far away. In many suburbs and small cities sidewalks do not even exist. If you want or need to walk then you have to do it in the shoulders of the road. This is not only dangerous, but makes you feel like you are doing something wrong. You feel alienated without a car. The car is such an important symbol of life and identity in the suburbs that to live without one you can almost feel like a child, unable to leave home at will.

If we can all agree that our addiction to cars is a bad thing and that cars are a status symbol in America, how do we change it? By lobbying for public transportation, better bike lanes, and more sidewalks. Investment in these areas will spur the green movement on. It will create more green jobs, as the people that run them and build them will be helping the environment. In this way we can change the dynamic of the burbs themselves, we can walk more, and not just to give us a quaint green feeling of accomplishment. We can make walking safer and more common so people do not feel awkward doing it. We need to do it because the way of life that involves every person from 16-90 feeling like that need to own a car is not working for us anymore. It is against everything the green movement stands for. This is one way to work from the ground up for change, so let’s start.

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