Living in the dorms, I can usually only park in my assigned lot. Though annoying in the winter, this is manageable as college campuses are the closest thing Americans get to walkable communities.
When I first toured Ferris, I was told that I would never have to walk more than 15 minutes to get to another spot on campus. Classrooms, offices, dining halls, the Market, and Birkam are always within reach. The same can not be said for the average US city.
To quote an article from Quartz, American cities are designed for cars. Our storefronts are dwarfed by extensive, barren parking lots. Urban sprawl separates neighborhoods from stores and businesses. Our efforts and resources have not been directed towards making walkable environments.
Our natural environment is sacrificed because of this. Fast Company explained that large amounts of land are cleared for nothing more than parking space, including nearly 15% of Los Angeles’ total county land. People depend on cars as our environmental clock ticks louder by the day.
Over 90% of the American households have at least one car, because it is nearly impossible to get around without one. The Infrastructure Report Card reports that 45% of Americans have virtually no access to public transit. Walkable cities like Boston, New York, or San Fransisco are hardly affordable to live in.
This was not always the case. PBS documentary “Taken for a Ride” explained that only 10% of citizens owned their own vehicle in the 1920s, when most urban roads were designed for streetcar systems. General Motors’ Alfred P. Sloan sought out to eliminate the rail system in order to open up the remaining 90% of the country to car sales.
After gaining control over the largest bus operator, the largest bus producer, and acquiring interest in countless city railways, Sloan and GM were successful. American streets were then designed for the auto industry, by the auto industry.
Now, we have a country of 329 million dependent gas guzzling General Motors. Where is there to go from here?
Asking for walkable communities may be asking for an end to suburbia. The idea is to have a variety of buildings all in one block. If residential areas are secluded within their white picket fences, separated from people’s stores, health centers, and workplaces, navigation is more difficult.
Putting residential zones closer to the heart of cities is the first step. In some cases, housing is placed directly on top of stores or businesses. Mixed-use development, as it is called, may have been phased out of American life as superhighways began to separate living centers from buying centers. Still, this is a staple of Europe’s most navigable cities.
To further stave the public off of automobile reliance, our streets themselves need to be redesigned with pedestrians in mind. Placing wide, four lane avenues next to minuscule, cracking sidewalks shows people which form of transportation is more valued by the city.
A country that is walkable is a country with community. People are not so removed from the heart and soul of their city. There is less reliance on expensive, harmful, fossil fuels. Our cities could be much more peaceful without the noise, smog, and danger of sharing our space with the automobile.