Breaking free from car dependency: Paving the way for walkable cities (Op-Ed)

Life in our modern cities, once vibrant centers of community and culture, has hit a roadblock: car dependency. It’s hard to imagine that this wasn’t accidental, but industry giants like General Motors and Ford were very influential in this outcome. They collaborated with our government to gear the American infrastructure to be reliant on cars getting people around. They had a major hand in the course of urban development today, affecting generations of americans. Stealing the access to walkable cities and healthier alternatives than what defines our landscapes today.

Imagine this: bustling streetcar networks that once effortlessly connected neighborhoods, replaced by buses and private cars, all orchestrated by GM in the mid-20th century. It’s like swapping out a finely-tuned orchestra for a solo act. The outcome? Profit for the auto industry, but a glaring void for communities left without convenient, affordable transit options. While GM’s pockets got richer, the environment and public health got sicker.

But that’s not the full story.

As we funneled resources into this car-focused infrastructure, our cities began to pivot more and more around automobiles, losing their human-centered essence. The result? Urban sprawl on steroids. Our communities stretched outward, fragmented by sprawling developments, leading to longer commutes, traffic congestion, and the gradual erosion of the close-knit neighborhoods we once held dear. And the financial burden of this car-dependent lifestyle? It’s hefty. Municipalities poured precious resources into road expansion while essential services and residents’ financial well-being suffered. Owning a car became a burden to many families, increasing expenses for the average consumer and contributing to economic inequality. We were born with legs and the ability to transport ourselves, and once we learned how fast we could get places with cars it impacted capitalism. Getting workers to their jobs quicker and consumers to places of businesses quicker became the imperative.

We witnessed unique local businesses pushed to the brink, losing ground to large, monolithic stores. Our communities, once a vibrant tapestry of diverse enterprises, began to lose their flavor.

But it’s more than just dollars and cents; it’s about our health too. Inactive lifestyles, the growing concern of obesity, and the constant air pollution from vehicle exhaust are scary realities, even as we make strides towards cleaner fuels and electric cars. 

The ongoing climate crisis demands that we reimagine our urban landscapes, putting people at the center. We need to break free from the shackles of car dependency and breathe life back into our communities. Pushing urban communities to factor in walkability and public transport rather than empty spaces for car parking lots and road access. No more car chaos, just daily routines filled with joy. Sidewalks become paths of connection, where friendly faces and surprises await. Public transport turns into shared adventures, forming bonds with fellow travelers. College towns, youthful and vibrant, capture this essence perfectly. Their walkable charm beckons exploration, creating a lasting sense of belonging even beyond graduation.

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