Same windshield perspective

Jeff noticed a good dose of “windshield perspective” in the newspaper coverage of NYCDOT’s recent announcement that the Broadway pedestrian malls would be made permanent. Historically, newspapers have always represented a pretty upper middle class view of urban life — and that long has meant that they firmly took the side of drivers.

I saw an interesting illustration of this phenomenon recently, put into starker relief by the context. While I was in Hong Kong, the South China Morning Post had a long feature article (by Austin Chiu, 29 January; archives aren’t linkable) on how a few blocks of Ho Chung village was about to lose its only road. A notice had been posted to remove all cars from the village, since they’d soon be barricaded in — but one recent Anglophone arrival was peeved, adamantly maintaining that universal road access was “the responsibility of the government.” This is not a view that others, much less the government, seemed to share: 95% of households don’t own cars, and many thousands live far beyond the reach of cars — along narrow footpaths, up on steep hillsides, deep within complexes or high-rises. (It’s long been a goal of mine to live somewhere so far out of car culture’s reach that you physically can’t drive there.)

This article struck me as pretty strange on a few levels:
1. That a neighborhood could be made to go car-free
2. That road access was not widely understood as a universal entitlement
3. That such closures were not unusual
4. That someone could not notice something that seemingly obvious
5. That said person would bother complaining only at the last possible moment
6. That even the complaint was largely on procedural terms, about notification
7. That the newspaper would portray that complaint sympathetically, going so far as to point out how easy it would be for the government to build a bridge to replace the road (which crossed private land).

Actually, that last point is the least surprising one: it’s an English newspaper with a relatively wealthy readership who would sympathize better with the car-owning Anglo than with his car-free Chinese neighbors.

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3 thoughts on “Same windshield perspective

  1. Given the popularity of the few car-free places that exist (like Venizia or Mackinac Island), I’m surprised that there aren’t more car-free neighborhoods. It wouldn’t be too hard to have parking lots at the edge of a neighborhood, but leave several interior blocks car-free.

    I wonder how big the market is for a place like this. I’m sure most people prefer the convenience of being able to unload groceries directly in front of their home, but there might be enough people like you who would rather just walk everywhere and use a hand cart or something to haul goods.

  2. I’m not terribly optimistic, since my view of cars is that they’re far less convenient and far more irritating than the average American would view them. Hence, the popularity of cul-de-sac and gated communities — where your own car can come right in, but not those outsiders’.

    Indeed, the difficulty of finding such houses in the U.S. (and hence their exclusivity) is partly why it sounds so exciting and different. Besides some co-housing complexes, I can’t think of any recent >1 acre developments which don’t allow for any interior car access — and you’d want to keep the cars a few hundred feet away for maximum isolation from their noise and stench.

    One spot that often comes to mind is this little stretch of Bloomingdale, where the entire street ROW is occupied by the rail(-trail) embankment. The houses face a shady sidewalk, and it’s really quiet despite being two blocks from the Kennedy.

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