May 28, 2006

Public vs. Private Space

I've written about the balance between private vs. public space before. Outside of urban America, the emphasis is generally so strongly on private space that our public spaces become poor cousins. It's why exurbs have lots of McMansions but little pedestrian appeal, and our transportation policies favor the private car over public transit. (In places like Manhattan, on the other hand, people pay dearly for minimal private living space in return for the fabulous public spaces right out their doors. New York is the only city in America where a majority of people take mass transit to work).

But I have to say I really enjoyed this quote from James Howard Kunstler for putting the issue in perspective: "a luxurious private realm, with more bathrooms per inhabitant than any other society, will not compensate for a public realm that has been reduced and impoverished into a universal automobile slum."

I've said it before and I'll say it again: There's nothing wrong with automobiles, but there's something very wrong about designing communities solely for the needs of motorized private vehicles, caring little about the needs of pedestrians, cyclists and public transit.

Kunstler thinks that if the high cost of gasoline prompts more people to stay closer to home this summer, "The failures and disconnections of the living arrangement most Americans have been induced to choose will at last become manifest." Certainly the lack of public transit alternatives and the need to use automobiles for every imaginable errand should become more obvious among those whose lifestyles assumed they could buy endless supplies of gas at less than $2/gallon and who can't shrug off $3+/gallon gasoline.

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