Cars have propelled our centrifugal expansion away from centers of density, and as we have spread across the countryside we have drawn behind us an increasingly expensive, complex, and energy-dependent train of civic infrastructure. This effects everyone. Local governments absorb much of the cost of more and more local roadways, longer water and electrical lines, and much larger sewer systems to support sprawling developments. They must also fund public services to new residents who live farther and farther from the core community. These new services such as police and fire protection, schools, libraries, trash removal are to name a few. Stretching all these basic services over these geographic areas of sprawl presents a great burden on local governments. And all of this is sustained by the car.
This unrestrained mobility and rise of the automobile shaped the country’s first zoning regulations. Zoning is the practice of segregating like civic uses in zones or districts such as single-family residences here, apartment buildings over there, stores beyond, factories across the tracks – all connected by roads. Spreading out is the concept at the heart of virtually all traditional zoning ordinances. Zoning tends to fully separate residential and commercial uses, to move buildings farther apart and farther from streets and sidewalks, to force low-density development by limiting building height and lot coverage and to require the creation of oversized parking garages, which move buildings farther apart, usually making them inaccessible to anyone who isn’t driving.
It is our cars that stand between us and solutions to our problems. Cars have defined our culture and our lives and a car makes its driver a self-sufficient nation of one. It is basically everything a city is not.
While visiting Miami last December, we stumbled across an exhibit by Thomas Bayrle at the Institute of Contemporary Art. His show, “One Day on Success Street”, focused on the his preoccupation with the relationship of citizens to the environments and infrastructures they inhabit. As we traveled through the exhibit, these images made us laugh and made us sad.