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Cars with Lots of Real Estate – The Babuk Report

Cars with Lots of Real Estate

A friend wrote in reply of my 4 July 2009 post “Big People. Little Cars. Tiny Houses. The Scale of our Neighbourhoods”, which spoke of our neighbourhoods being sized around our mode of personal transportation which, in modern day North America, tends to be our cars.  To quote Alex:

                “There are a couple of arguments against the move to smaller-more-sustainable automobiles in particular.  I’ll coin it “larger-and-more-survivable”.

                Not that I have anything against the cute and vulnerable Cooper Mini nor it’s reincarnation, the 21st Century BMW Mini, it’s just that with the striking deterioration of our public highways, a larger  vehicle with adequate ground clearance is soon to become an advantage.  By the way, it strikes me that the sudden downfall of public infrastructure is very much mirrored by the downfall of print media.  I have a hard time seeing my younger nephews and nieces with their passels of kinder and requisite accoutrements actually fitting into the current generation of mini-vehicles.  Indeed, with three or more small children in a vehicle, your old Mini Clubman just couldn’t hold the child seats, let alone the toys, diaper bags, etc that – at least – the younger generation of my family is saddled with.  I don’t think that your Mini could even hold an SUV – Stroller Utility Vehicle!”

I’ve always maintained that we design our neighbourhoods around our cars.  More succinctly, we design our neighbourhoods around the prevalent mode of personal transportation.  We always have – for the longest of times, that mode was on foot – walking.  Not until the Machine Age / Post Machine Age has transportation become so notable in our neighbourhoods, because the type of transportation we’ve invented is so different than what we as humans are capable of on our own. 

The type of neighbourhood that I live in was built around people walking to a rapid transit or commuter train station, so the buildings and landscape look the way they do to reflect this. Since then and quite suddenly, we’ve built entire cities around the automobile – the prevalent method of personal transportation currently used in North America.  Not only would it be difficult to “retrofit” an automobile neighbourhood to be function “walkably”, but trying to get around one of these automobile neighbourhoods by another method becomes challenging, if not dangerous.  I know of someone who drives a perfectly restored 1969 Fiat 500 with a bumper sticker that reads “…my other car is a race car…”; he drives it on the expressways of Chicago fearlessly, leaving everyone breathless.  The rest of us could never achieve this talent without intense professional training!

So becomes the quandary of dodging potholes and 18 wheelers at high speeds.  Part of the format of automobile oriented development is to have an abundance of supply of transportation routes.  Abundant infrastructure becomes very expensive to maintain properly.

Personal. mobile spaces within a larger, very public space, both quite falmbouyant - "Superdawg", Chicago IL
Personal. mobile spaces within a larger, very public space, both quite flambouyant – "Superdawg", Chicago IL

Now, I do have this thing about the automobile and its allure.  As architecture, automobiles are highly sculptural, display the personality and identity of their owners.  Automobiles are not just personal spaces with their own environmental hierarchies and transitions, but they are personal space that moves, taking its occupants from place to place while experiencing the space within, and the spaces outside – in motion, in sequence no less.  It’s a very contemporary, Machine Age experience – quite exhilarating, since it removes mankind from the need to have ties to the earth. 

Although Frank Lloyd Wright was apparently an automobile enthusiast.  Oddly, this notion of automobile as architecture goes against his philosophy of architecture being part of the earth.  Two very exciting, diametrically opposed concepts.