- Hardcover: 418 pages
- Publisher: Crown; 1 edition (April 1, 1997)
- Language: English
- ISBN-10: 0517587025
- ISBN-13: 978-0517587027
- Product Dimensions: 6.8 x 1.2 x 9.8 inches
- Shipping Weight: 1.3 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
- Average Customer Review: 19 customer reviews
- Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #4,013,401 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
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Asphalt Nation: How the Automobile Took Over America and How We Can Take It Back Hardcover – April 1, 1997
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Commuters, here's some food for thought: collectively, Americans spend more than 8 billion hours each year stuck in traffic. This is just one of the horrifying statistics mentioned in Jane Holtz Kay's Asphalt Nation, an eye-opening look at the relationship between Americans and their cars. Kay asserts that the automobile is destroying our communities, our environment, and our economic competitiveness, and her supporting arguments are pretty persuasive. In addition to the billions of hours wasted in gridlock, Kay notes that our daily drives are becoming longer and more frequent, and that increased mileage has nullified any advances in emission controls. Asphalt Nation is comprised of three parts: the first, "Car Glut: A Nation in Lifelock," examines the impact of the automobile culture on life in the United States today. "Car Tracks: The Machine That Made the Land" traces the history of cars from Henry Ford to the present, while "Car Free: From Dead End to Exit" imagines a happier future without automobile dependency.
What makes Asphalt Nation far more interesting than the typical anti-auto diatribe is Kay's discussion of the cultural mores that helped create America's current car glut--namely, our attitudes toward land use and growth management; her comparisons between American and European practices in these areas are particularly interesting. Others have written about the American love affair with the automobile, but Holtz revisits the discussion with lively writing and a dramatic narrative.
Despite some occasional discord, most Americans' love affair with the automobile continues unabated. In fact, highway speed limits have been raised in some places, and Chicago has reopened venerable State Street to auto traffic. Yet antiautomobile activists, highway engineers, and transportation bureaucrats have all begun to reach the same conclusion. Pollution, congestion, and destruction of our landscape from automobiles and highways have reached the crisis stage. Kay is the Nation's architecture critic and author of Lost Boston (1988). She documents the degree to which Americans have become dependent upon the automobile and measures the costs of America's "car culture." But Kay also offers solutions, many of which have been successful in places across the country. Hers is an impassioned plea to design public spaces to accommodate pedestrians, to stop building new highways, to reverse the neglect of public transit and mass transportation, to promote the use of bicycles, and to design communities for people instead of machines. David Rouse
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The content is wanting too. Despite the "how we can take it back" part of the subtitle, the book contains no apendices or tables listing resources for anti-car activism; I have had to jot down notes _en passant_ and look up the names she mentions using the internet.
This is all very unfortunate, because the point of the book needs to be made, and I give Jane Holtz Kay three stars for making it. But if this is the best kind of popular scholarship and writing we can expect in support of the anti-auto movement, then that movement is likely doomed.
I was more taken with the second part, where Kay reports the history of how automobiles, and specifically traffic planners, conspired to create the sprawling, pedestrian-hostile multilane disaster we call the modern American city. This portion of the book was fascinating, and I would have liked twice as much of it.
At the end of the day, however, I was hoping the author would have a more nuanced and thoughtful point of view than, "Cars are bad, walking is good." I already knew that. Still and all, a great book if you're inclined to think that maybe what your city needs is NOT one or two more left-turn lanes.
Ms. Kay knows what she is talking about and expresses her ideas, oh, so well.
Additional weak points:
- No presence of counter argument.
- Not enough attention was payed to the 'taking it back' portion of the title. Roughly 4/5 of the book were taking over America, 1/5 taking it back. No new ideas were presented in the 'taking it back' section.
The decisions that propelled the automobile into all of our daily lives were made before most of us were born. Past governing officials, business leaders, and our grandparents made these decisions during a period of time before the now evident problems could be foreseen. The development of our built environment (mainly suburbs and shopping centers) can be directly related to the increasing influence of the automobile. Our own culture is very much intertwined with the car, and the problems that it brings effects our society deeply. The car is not the American Dream, it does not symbolize freedom, and, if we act responsibly, it will not be the only option for our children as it was for us.
Read this book to see the problems of automobile addiction and not to find solutions to the problems defined. There are no books currently written that have solved, or even come close to solving, the problem associated with this addiction or the secondary problems of urban decay, suburban sprawl, co-dependence on Middle Eastern oil, destruction of our natural environment, drive-thu culture, separation of the extended family, etc. The admittance of the addiction is the first and most important step in finding a solution. This is the point of Asphalt Nation. As people become familiar with the ideas contained in Asphalt Nation, as well as other books, some alternatives like New Urbanism and Co-Housing (community/shared living) will begin to spawn better and better concepts toward a more human-scaled way to live in the next millennium.