What would it actually look like anyway?
It's a shame that questioning car dependency is becoming a culture war issue, but it feels kind of inevitable. There is a conservative case to be made against car dependent societies, but the voices on the left are just more numerous and vocal on this issue. Their messaging, which often invokes climate change, turns off conservatives, or worse, sets off a backlash like what we saw with the "15 minute city" conspiracy theories.
"This is because it is effectively impossible to treat driving with the seriousness it calls for and demands, and also rely on driving to do almost everything." Very true!
I like that Addison Del Mastro writes about how urbanism should be a non-partisan issue. As a mom, I think there are so many points to be made about how total car dependency is not family friendly.
You would think conservatives would support transportation options that put less of a financial strain on infrastructure and encourage people to maintain better health by walking, riding a bike or using public transit to get to work. Unfortunately the right wing has become obsessed with culture wars driven by conspiracy theories. The day I heard them complaining about 15 minute cities was the day I knew that every facet of life no matter how minor would be radicalized into a culture war by these people.
I even stopped jokingly using the terminally online urbanist phrase "ban cars" because I wanted to stop even in a small way radicalizing the discourse about non car-centric infrastructure but I doubt it would do much good
The War on Cars, tongue in cheek or not, is a luxury belief for most Americans. Living without access to a car is simply impossible for, what, 90% of American households? If you don't have a car, it's either because you're too poor, and it makes your life miserable, or you're very rich, and you can afford to live somewhere with lots of transit.
I'll agree that it's become a culture war issue, though again a theoretical one for most Americans. And while I should line up with those trying to reduce car dependency, since I've never owned a car (life-long Manhattanite here), I find it difficult on a tribal level. The actual War on Cars podcast takes such a sneering tone towards everyone who is not 100% on board with their ideology, it's hard for me to warm up to that side. And beyond the podcast, so many transit and cycling advocates can be so repellent when confronted with any challenge to their ideas, it's tough to want them to be successful.
Since many responses here (some of them very thoughtful!) seem to hinge upon the "war on cars" as a partisan or culture war issue, I just want to point out that there was a vocal and active pro-transit minority on the Right in the late 90s/early 00s.
Two arch-reactionaries, Heritage Foundation founder Paul Weyrich and "5th Generation Warfare" theorist William S. Lind, authored a number of white papers and hosted symposia on light rail and heritage street cars, one of which was called simply "Bring Back Streetcars!" The Free Congress Foundation (also a Weyrich group) published the New Electric Railway Journal for about a decade.
While pitched to a right-leaning audience and often focused on addressing conservative skepticism, much of their material makes a solid, broadly appealing, potentially nonpartisan case for greater investment in mass transit. Also contains a wealth of information about historical urban streetcar systems and their successes. (All of these publications are easy to find archived online.)
I experienced the most anxiety in my life when I had to separate my elderly mother, in the grip of dementia, short term memory loss, loss of hearing and macular degeneration, from using her automobile. It happened without too much difficulty but I remember wishing the automobile had never been invented or that I lived in Bangla Desh. The automobile not only dominates our physical infrastructure but also the landscape of our minds.
Are you being a satirist on your post today, Addison Del Mastro?
You state at the beginning here that those who warn others about the intention of limiting or restricting car use to Americans are fools and dramatists. Yet, you argue through your writing here exactly the opposite of your initial argument. Your passionate tone against cars comes through loud and clear and you prove that others such as yourself want to limit people's ability to use cars, any car, as they wish.
Policy is not always transparent, but the intentions come about based on incentives or disincentives. I could mention a few disincentive approaches taken by the government but I'll stick to the price of oil. The first thing Biden did when he took office in January 2021 was to cancel the almost complete Keystone oil pipeline in the east and in multifarious ways, he has turned the US from a fully self-sufficient oil country and exporter of oil to a country with expensive gasoline cruelly affecting peoples already hard- hit inflationary wallets under Bidenomics.
Everything is more expensive because of high fuel prices, not just car gas. This is an intentional consequence of the insane economic and philosophical ideas coming from Democrats and, from your writing today, from you.
As for distracted drivers, you clearly support a highly controlling nanny state, even more than we suffer from today, and that is plain unamerican.
There's a bit of "no true Scotsman" lurking in that "no serious urbanist" phrase. There is a ton of "ban cars" rhetoric in the urbanist internets. It's true that no actual cities are pursuing these policies. But not many actual cities are pursuing the policies of the serious urbanists, either. The latter could change if some of the "ban cars" people came to their senses or quieted down. Or came up with well-thought-out ideas on how cities could be reimagined to preserve classical urban principles while also accommodating cars.
As usual, I agree with you, but worry you might just be preaching to the choir. From my perspective, it seems like conservative thought leaders (generous term) are so determined to put a conspiratorial spin on everything they dislike that I worry no amount of rational argument will make a difference. Once people are determined to believe in that narrative, trying to reason them out of it feels a bit like fighting quicksand. Hope you don’t tire easily!
Another commentator here writes, "People voting with their dollars are saying they don't want to live in strip-mall towns."
Nonsense! Ever been to Milpitas, CA, or to Houston's (suburban) Chinatown, or to Buford Highway in Atlanta? Those are genuinely "vibrant" places where a diverse array of people are voting with their wheels. (These days, the best mom-and-pop eateries are in those much-maligned strip malls.) It's "sprawl" only when you're looking down on it.
Urbanism (complete with "walkability scores" and twee boutiques) is truly the new monoculture.
PS: I'd love to see a direct face-off between Addison Del Mastro and Joel Kotkin!
What I can't get is the fact that in my area, which is mostly a sprawl of small towns that have grown in and around each other, there are people, like my neighbor who is great, who have a smallish pick up truck and a huge high end SUV. It's adorable that he and his wife both barely 5'4 look like munchkins driving these huge vehicles. And they never haul anything big around in them. They are pristine.
You know, I at least understand the idea that a car is more free than a train or bus that is driven by another person and tied to a prescribed schedule, but within a proverbial 15-minute city, what could be more free than walking, using your own legs and dependent on no machine whatsoever?
Never thought I'd see people take the "get out of the car" metaphor for hallucinogenic insights as an argument that they should, in fact, never leave or even acknowledge any car that they find themselves in.
This ties in really well with Chuck Marohn's latest Strong Towns podcast on speed cameras:
I don't know that I fully accept his topline stance, but if I'm being honest that's probably because I more or less envision the "best possible" version of Speed Cameras As Bandaid he describes, even if I mostly agree with his "that's not what's gonna happen" take.
But 100% I agree with his final 20 minutes or so where he's making the case that to the extent where there's a War on Drivers, it's *the status quo* not proposed urbanist remedies, and his plea to avoid vengeance-driven responses and focus on actually helping the victims, both on foot *and* behind the wheel.
Thanks for writing this, Addison. As a conservative who loves good urbanism (StrongTowns' fiscal arguments were what convinced me of its importance c. 2016, though I've since come to appreciate the aesthetic), I'd like to offer this quasi-syllogistic way of framing median conservative opinion that might help flesh out the problem:
A. Cash for Clunkers did (and onerous EV mandates will) tend to price cars out of the reach of working and middle class Americans.
B. The people who implemented Cash for Clunkers and who are trying to implement onerous EV mandates are Democrats / progressives.
C. Most urbanists are Democrats / progressives.
Therefore, D. most urbanists favor policies that will make cars unattainable for more and more working and middle class Americans (or in more inflammatory words, urbanists are making War On Cars).
Now obviously this isn't a logically valid syllogism; parties and ideologies are diverse and it's possible - maybe even likely - that the specific Democrats/progressives who support Cash for Clunkers and EV mandates are doing so out of environmental concerns and couldn't care less about good urbanism, and therefore it's not logically fair to blame the War On Cars on urbanists. But you're not going to make much headway among Republicans/conservatives with "Not all Democrats/progressives...".
Premises A and B are objectively true, whether one supports or opposes Cash for Clunkers / EV mandates. That leaves premise C.
I think you're on the right track in citing self-identified conservatives who've questioned auto-centric urban design, but what I think would be even better is if you could point to conservative *places*: cities and towns that both 1) retain the traditional development pattern and 2) vote for Republicans. What places can you think of that meet those two criteria?