New and Old #90
Friday roundup and commentary
Self-Driving Cars Are a Natural Fit for Rural America, Bloomberg, Adam Minter, December 22, 2022
There are more than 1 million car-less households in rural America. Providing affordable transit to them has always been an expensive challenge. Thanks to rapidly aging rural demographics, it's becoming harder. Drivers are scarce, costs are high, and the demand for rides to the doctor, the supermarket and the community center is booming.
Minter writes that self-driving cars could be a solution to this. And these great big stretches of rural America need transportation solutions much more than cities do, where alternatives to transit and walking are alternatives, not the only way.
Will the things ever really work? There’s an initiative in Grand Rapids to train driverless vehicles (with human observers who can take the wheel if needed). Rural areas are less crowded and have fewer different types of road users, so perhaps such a simplified landscape will prove manageable. It’s an interesting read.
Last Exit to Pottersville, Bloomberg CityLab, David Dudley, December 22, 2016
For those Americans living in places that look less and less like Bedford Falls, it’s hard not to see the movie as something else entirely—a fable of American anxieties about urbanism and community.
I saw It’s a Wonderful Life for the first time on Christmas Eve—and I did not like it at all. But I did find its progressive-traditionalist fusion rather interesting, along with its sort-of subplot about housing.
And this, in fact, could be a reason why the film, a flop in the 1940s, has improbably (at least to me) become a classic:
When ‘70s audiences rediscovered the film from the sunken living rooms of their subdivision ranchers, they must have seen a lost American paradise, a vanished world of robust community bonds and neighbors who looked out for each other. And George’s conversion narrative is rooted in what we’re now calling the politics of nostalgia—he turns his back on the future, choosing instead to cower in the cozy confines of the past.
On the other hand:
He settles for creating Bailey Park, a low-income housing development of cookie-cutter homes carved from the outlying woods. In other words, sprawl-happy George may get few people out of Potter’s slums, but he also unwittingly helped plant the seeds of the town’s demise.
Obviously none of this is meant to be the film’s primary thrust, but it is fun to view cultural artifacts like this as telling stories they didn’t necessarily intend to.
The Impotence of Being Clever, The Hedgehog Review, Alexander Stern, Fall 2022
The airport is one of a number of modern spaces—the shopping mall, the stadium, the waiting room, the amusement park—that reduce the individual to a minimum of subjectivity, or at the very least strive to make that subjectivity irrelevant. As a passenger, a shopper, a “guest,” you are not quite yourself, but become something like the faceless figures in architects’ three-dimensional renderings of these spaces. There is even something carceral about these environments, as Michel Foucault recognized, insofar as their architecture imposes a physical discipline upon the guest even as he or she is catered to and entertained.
There’s a lot more here. It’s an interesting, thoughtful, long-ish read.
In My Flop Era, Starting from Nix, Nix, December 23, 2022
I’ve been following this writer for a bit, and I find her very insightful.
I’m still learning that one of the best and hardest parts about being young in a big city is that things always change. When I was happy, god I was so happy. Then the next moment things shifted, everything I loved felt different. I thought we’d be friends for life, now we don’t speak. I didn’t know you existed at one point and now I can’t imagine being without you. I was so healthy and then suddenly very sick. It’s hard to calibrate. What’s temporary or permanent? I move every single year and find it hard to pack light. All these seasons pass through me. My summers, my winters. All I can do is adapt, adapt, adapt my way through it.
I am happy that I got married, settled in a place, picked a rewarding (if not terribly stable) profession, and was lucky enough to own our home. That is a very different path than most people I know, and, it seems, most people my age. But I very easily could have been single through my 20s here in the D.C. area, and I think I probably would have, or could have, written something like this. I feel, in some way, that I was spared that trial; at least it would have seemed like a trial to me. It’s interesting to read a clear-eyed and nuanced appraisal by someone else of that life.
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"I saw It’s a Wonderful Life for the first time on Christmas Eve—and I did not like it at all." I am extremely surprised to hear this!