A Fresh Look at American Sprawl

WelcometoConcrete.jpgThere’s
only one Concrete, WA, but concrete and asphalt are the welcome mats for
towns across America. Image: Gord McKenna/Flickr.

American
advocates for livable streets know that our addiction to the automobile
is almost without peer. We know that we’ve given our land to driving
lanes and parking lots and our air to exhaust fumes. Nevertheless, it
can be hard to step outside of the car culture we’ve spent our lives
marinating in and see the country with a new perspective.

That’s why this letter we received from two British tourists is so
refreshing. It’s both a stark admonishment of how much we’ve given up
for the car, sometimes barely noticing it, and a heartening reminder
that what often seems normal to us need not be: 

We are visitors to the States from England. Our main reason for
coming was to visit friends, however upon researching into transport
options we were horrified to discover that the only viable option to get
from NY to LA via many small towns was by car. Many of our friends have
tried to justify this saying that ‘America is simply too big to have
public transport’. To us, this is purely INSANE. Surely a huge country
should offer the best public transport in the world! Bullet trains could
cover the driving distances in no time.

We are feeling quite ashamed of ourselves as we write this but
inevitably we did end up driving across America. We have found the
American people to be welcoming and friendly and the landscape beautiful
but we have not yet seen a single ‘town’ in the US that we, as
Europeans would class as a town. I would class them more as motorway
service stations. Buildings designed for cars. People waiting in line
for a drive through. People competing for car parking spaces at gyms!
These are not communities as we would recognise – market squares, parks,
rivers, cafes, stations, public art, gardens etc. ‘Towns’ are simply
not towns! We feel saddened that many Americans are not afforded the
community lifestyle that we enjoy in Europe.

Our purpose of writing is not to attack your country and we do
apologise if we have offended. I am writing to urge you, beg with you,
plead with you to keep up the fantastic work that you are doing. Despite
the wonderful time that we have had in the US I simply cannot wait to
get home in order to walk from my flat and pick up a newspaper and a
pint of milk, on my journey I shall say hello to everyone I meet, take
note of the weather and breathe some fresh air.