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Friday, November 17 2017 @ 05:35 PM UTC

Death of Jane Holtz Kay, author of Asphalt Nation

Biking ElsewhereRebuilding Place in the Urban Space quoting New York Times Book Review of Asphalt Nation

In her book's first section, ''Car Glut: A Nation in Lifelock,'' Kay, the architecture critic for The Nation, reports that more driving does not mean more mobility because the number and length of trips needed for everyday life are increasing; that the elderly and the young, who are unable to drive, have been transformed into virtual prisoners; that the United States gives automobiles at least seven times the subsidies it earmarks for public transportation; that improvements in emission controls have been canceled out by an increase in miles driven; that salt used on ice and snow causes trees and vegetation to wither; and that Americans are fat because they drive rather than walk.

To her credit, Kay recognizes that the automobile is not the only culprit. She points out, for example, that Europeans have avoided many American problems not just because of high gasoline taxes and excellent public transportation systems but also because they regard land as a scarce resource to be controlled in the public interest rather than exploited by whoever happens to own it at a particular moment. Thus, European governments have traditionally exercised stringent controls over land development, and they have operated on the theory that the preservation of farms and open space is an appropriate national goal. In Dusseldorf, Germany, possibly the richest city in the world, truck farmers tend their crops within a couple of miles of the city's skyscrapers, not because alternative land uses would not yield a higher return, but because the law prohibits the very possibility of development.

Given that the review is by Kenneth Jackson, one of the leading urban historians of our time, he is critical, writing:

One wishes, however, that Kay had more effectively anticipated and countered the likely questions of the 40-million-member American Automobile Association and the other powerful elements of the highway lobby. What do current gasoline taxes, meager as they are, pay for? Who should pay for the construction and repair of local roads that serve residential areas? If cars are becoming cleaner and more efficient over time, why will pollution not take care of itself? Who gets the bill for the uninsured motorists who cause the innocent to live out their days in wheelchairs?

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