At The New Yorker, Adam Gopnik reviews two books that examine America’s love-hate relationship with automobiles and parking. “Carmageddon” by Daniel Knowles decries cars as “agents of social oppression, international inequality, and ecological disaster.” Henry Grabar’s “Paved Paradise” suggests that outdated parking policy has compromised American urban centers, leading to big box stores that fester in suburbs with ample parking space. No matter where you fall on the 15-minute cities debate, you’ll find that Gopnik’s review reveals some of the surprising social and historical context that drives decision making on public policy and urban planning to this day.
We pay an enormous price for our automotive addiction—in congestion, time wasted, neighborhoods destroyed, emissions pumped out, pleasant streets subordinated to brutal expressways—but telling the addict that the drug isn’t actually pleasurable is a losing game. There is some slight hope in saying that it isn’t healthy, and that the replacement for the drug is about as good. But understanding this emotional infrastructure in favor of cars is vital to imagining their possible replacement.
Human beings are meaning machines, searching for symbolic attachments and rewriting their own fables in retrospect. The rearview mirror is as powerful an instrument of transportation as the accelerator. We can’t help looking backward as we go forward.