[Marxism] Walk Against 'House Arrest'- How Too Much Street is Theft
gojack10 at hotmail.com
Fri Apr 30 11:05:31 MDT 2004
Most Americans would probably rather go for a walk in Havana than Houston.
Yet they will think of Houston as the success story, and Havana as the
failure! Is the car really freedom though? Since I live in a town without
sidewalks, to take a walk is a menace to my health. To not take one is a
menace to my health, two.
Capitalism destroys the quality of life, and that's why the car is really
capitalism's favorite mechanical prison for us. A prison promoted as
freedom. The car represents the factory brought home to personal time. It
is an evil presented as luxury, an unecessary necessity, and a toxic drug
for allienated people. Nobody hardly ever seems to question if we actually
need so much transportation to nowhere? That's what's wierd.
By Jay Walljasper, Utne
April 29, 2004
One of the local characters in the small city where I grew up was Judge
Green. A giant man, probably 6 feet 7, he was widely admired around town, in
part because he had been star of the only Urbana High School team ever to
make it to the championship game of the Illinois state basketball
tournament. I remember him as a cheerful man who greeted everyone with a
smile. But he had one trait that made him seem a bit peculiar: He walked to
work every day. If you drove down Broadway Avenue at certain hours, you
couldn't miss his towering figure striding along the sidewalk.
One day, home from college and already an ardent environmentalist, I was
walking uptown myself when it dawned on me that Judge Green's home was only
a few blocks from the courthouse hardly more than half a mile. I was
shocked. The man many folks thought eccentric (and I thought heroic) for not
driving to work each day was covering a distance that would be nothing to
pedestrians in Europe, or most other places outside the United States. How
sad, I sighed. There really is no hope that Americans will ever get out of
their cars if a half-mile walk looks to them like an Olympic endurance
Walking, in many ways, is still viewed as an exotic and slightly odd habit.
Try this experiment some time at a party or other gathering: Announce that
you are walking home. I'll bet you, two-to-one odds, that someone will offer
a ride, even if you live just three blocks away and it's a sunny 80 degrees
outside. This is a generous gesture, of course, seen by most folks as
similar to giving a glass of water to someone who says they're thirsty. Why
walk if you could go in a car?
But the answer to that question is becoming more complicated than it used to
be. The net effect of two hundred and fifty million Americans always taking
the car results in polluted skies, congested roads, global warming,
burgeoning obesity and a growing sense of isolation in most American
Our decision to drive made over and over again, has eliminated the option to
walk in many places. Many kids, old people, poor people, and disabled people
are living under a form of house arrest, unable to go anywhere without
finding someone to chauffeur them. Sidewalks are seen as an unnecessary
luxury in most suburbs, and 60 years of traffic "improvements" on America's
streets have rendered many other communities unfit for pedestrians. The
simplest human acts buying groceries, going to school, visiting friends
now depend upon climbing into a car. People today even drive somewhere to
take a walk because the streets around their homes feel inhospitable.
Yet one thing has changed for the better since I was a kid in the days of
cheap gas, open roads, and plentiful parking. Increasing numbers of
Americans seeing a future of traffic jams, soulless sprawl, and
never-ending wars for oil are looking for ways to get out of the driver's
seat. Even at a time when politicians in Washington are allocating billions
for another round of mega-highway construction and pop culture celebrates
the sexy supremacy of Hummer drivers, there is an emerging movement to
reclaim our right to take a walk.
All across the land, people are speaking up, organizing meetings, fighting
city hall and, in some cases, working with city hall to make streets safer
and more pleasant for pedestrians. They've gotten crosswalks painted in some
places, streets narrowed in others, stop signs and speed bumps installed,
zoning ordinances changed to promote pedestrian-friendly development, and
plans created to help kids walk or bike to school.
These issues reach deep into the heart of people's lives. Two neighbors bump
into one another on the sidewalk and start talking about planting more
flowers along the street, turning an empty storefront into a coffee shop or
lobbying the city council to add bike lanes to that busy road. In small but
important ways, these people are changing the face of America block by
This is a classic grassroots movement, with no clearly identifiable leaders.
But a number of the people most active in the cause have been inspired by a
former seminary student, magazine editor and window washer from Brisbane,
Australia named David Engwicht. Marked-up copies of Engwicht's books,
Reclaiming Our Cities and Towns and Street Reclaiming (both New Society
Publishers), are passed from hand to hand at community meetings and potlucks
across North America.
Engwicht's message is as simple as it radical. For nearly all of human
history, he declares, streets belonged to everybody. Kids played there, dogs
slept there, people stopped there to flirt or gossip. But over recent
decades, beginning in Detroit and spreading over much of the world, streets
have been seized for the exclusive use of cars and trucks. Most communities
have never recovered from this theft. Deprived of our neighborhood gathering
spots, we've retreated to the backyard or indoors to avoid the noise, smell
and danger of speeding traffic. In the process, we've withdrawn from one
complete article at... http://alternet.org/story.html?StoryID=18554
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