Sometimes people pushing for safer streets and more sustainable transportation comment about poor transportation planning of past generations. They usually sound something like this “Why do we have four lanes of fast traffic to begin with? Why did someone think this was a good idea?” The answer is always the same: perspective. Today these commentators see congestion, unsafe streets, and pollution. But 60 years ago people saw opportunity, speed, and convenience. Just look at this 1958 example from Disney. Magic Highway depicts a futuristic highway system that stretches forever and dissects our cities even more than today’s highway system. No thought is given to pollution, walkability, community, or even physical health (somehow everyone is thin and healthy when they sit all day). Density is clearly a bad thing. Nature is to be conquered or bypassed.
As we attempt to improve out streets through right-sizing and improving our communities through connectivity and walkability and bikeability we need to understand we are not just fighting against unsafe streets today – we are fighting generations of highway-hyped, car-centric culture that made the streets we see today.
Also keep an ear open for other pieces of American cultural history. Here are some of my favorites:
- Gender roles: Dad works while mom and kid shop, of course.
- Convenience: “From his private parking space, father will probably have to walk to his desk.” “Moving sidewalks make window shopping effortless.”
- Democracy: “The family vacation will always be decided by a family vote.”
- Progress: “New hopes, new dreams, and a better way of life for the future.”