asphalt nation

How the auto took over america
and how we can take it back


main difficulty in restoring a viable mode of human presence in the land is that we’ve found ourselves so locked into and dependent on existing industrial systems for food – shelter – clothing – transport – jobs that any thought of an alternative way of living appears more dream than possibility.  


my first 2013 post; getting behind at this, sorry folks, engaged like most – presidential candidates included – in everything but biggest topic at hand – our very planet’s survival. how on earth can this be ??? truth to tell, been fully absorbed too in this, another monumental work, one more consciousness / action turn-around.

jane holtz kay, nothing less than the rachel carson of the road ( tho ms kay herself ascribes that role to another ). the way she tells it, there’s no end to what fixation on our car is doing to our society. and not from just behind the wheel either – our roads, our architecture, our way of life, our very notion of place, and of course our planet’s declining health.

kay’s writing background as journalistic architecture critic underscores not only well-versed language of building, she verily breathes the high art of cultural design & purpose.

as with CARSON’S SILENT SPRING, as with so much else making its way here at, it’s taken this long for news of this import to reach this one bumbling reader. doubtless a good number of you are already here; hopefully this post serves at least to re-open a few driver-distracted eyes.

and this time it’s so close to home. i have to say i’m caught squarely in the bullseye of ms kay’s target cultural offenders. who could be more attuned to cars from well before his very own driver’s license? who can readily recall even in his waning years that two-tone of dad’s new ’53 ford country sedan . . . ?  polynesian bronze and sandpiper tan. or my own unbridled explosion into that culture with bouncy henry-j ?

and talk about bouncy! kay’s pages are written with as much enticing forward vigor as they are with rewarding detailed backup rich with stats & contributions from all sides of our auto equation. take a look at these catchy contents . . .

part I the car glut: a nation in lifelock
bumper to bumper
geography of inequity
landscape of the exit ramp
road to environmental ruin
harm to health and breath
cost of car culture

part II car tracks: the machine that made the land
model T, model city
from front porch to front seat
driving through the depression
asphalt exodus
braking the juggernaut
three-car culture

part III car free: dead end to exit
none for the road
zoning for life
putting transit on track
centering of america
depaving of america
righting the price

what strikes me is it’s no longer that legendary love of the automobile holding us to our costly affair. we’re now helplessly locked in. how do i get around anywhere off my wheels – they’re part of me now.

like for any book that counts, kay doesn’t leave us there fully wound and locked in the wake of disastrous conclusions. to be sure, we’ve reached the dead end of our all-encompassing car culture. but the road doesn’t stop here: there’s much we can yet do, albeit at costs to our way of life heretofore rarely considered. what, back to the city ?

if you’re the rare reader like me who has yet to catch up to kay, i urge you to waste no more time getting hold of a copy of ASPHALT NATION. i leave you with these two quotes ringing in my ears from the book’s first and last chapters . . .

statistically, most of our expanding hours behind the wheel, nearly eight of every ten vehicle miles we travel, have nothing to do with work. neither are these miles vacation trips or long distance travel, the reasons americans give for buying the first -or second or third- automobile. such holiday trips consume . . . a scant 8 percent of our total mileage.

what sets the odometer reeling . . . is something less than life, liberty, or the pursuit of happiness. and that is errands. according to the highway administration study, one-third of the miles we travel go to consumption and family chores.   p 31

the way to stop the auto age begins with affirming the value of place and the role of transportation in easing our access to it. the mission is to evoke the very root of transportation in the word ‘transport’ ( accent this time on 2nd syllable – me ) that can carry us to a loftier place and state of being.   p 355