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The “Fuck Cars” Perspective: A Brief Look into Why Car Dependent Cities Suck

Natasha Murmu

Science and Environment Editor



Photo VIA Google Maps



“If I lived where you live, I wouldn’t last a week.” This was one of the first things my city-dwelling Montrealer friend told me when he first visited my hometown. For context, I live in the middle of a car centric suburb a bit more than an hour long commute away from Dawson, a situation many students can relate to. Unfortunately, car dependent places like these can definitely suck, for several different reasons.

During the Industrial Revolution, urban planners introduced zoning laws, which dictate what can be built on a given part of a city. Their original purpose was to separate noisy, polluting factories from neighborhoods where people lived, among other incompatible uses of land.

Although these measures drastically improved public health and saved countless lives, some countries, such as the US and Canada, took these divisions too far, by completely separating residential areas from commercial zones. Many of these regulations are still in place, and they prevent new small businesses, like coffee shops and bookstores, from being built in zones reserved for homes.

One of the effects this has is reduced walkability. For people living in the middle of large residential areas, workplaces, stores, and restaurants are no longer a short or convenient walk away. So, they depend on driving to get where they want to go, whether it’s to buy a bag of milk or to go to work. When most people rely on cars to accomplish all of their tasks outside their home, traffic becomes a significant problem.

Furthermore, when people need to drive to run errands, they prefer to make a single stop at big-box stores like Walmart, which carry a wide range of products, instead of shopping at multiple smaller shops, which tend to be run by local business owners.

Moreover, in car centric municipalities without convenient public transportation or safe sidewalks and bike paths, children and teenagers who don’t have a driver’s license enjoy less independence than those in cities with greater walkability. Many depend on their parents to drive them to see their friends and to drop them off at their part time job.

This lack of freedom has a negative effect on young people’s happiness and social development. For instance, teenagers tend to spend more time on social media to stay connected with their friends, and excessive use of these platforms heightens insecurity and social anxiety.

People with lower incomes living in places with little walkability and lacking cheap and reliable mass transit can suffer from transport poverty. Not everyone can afford to buy a car and pay for gas, and when no suitable lower cost alternative is available, some may not be able to satisfy their everyday needs. Since transport poverty limits people’s ability to, among other things, apply for a job further away from home and travel for school, it makes it harder to break out of poverty.

Obesity rates are higher in car centric cities, because such places are built in a way that it’s safer, more convenient, and sometimes even necessary to drive instead of walking, biking or using public transport. Even a few minutes of physical activity, if done regularly, is beneficial for physical and mental health. It’s easier for people to stay healthy when their daily commutes include small amounts of it.

In a place where the majority of citizens rely on cars, space is needed to park them. Huge areas of land are dedicated to parking lots, which are visually unappealing and empty most of the time. This is land that could be used more productively, or that could be turned into something more beautiful, like a garden or a park.

Of course, city-wide reliance on cars also has destructive effects on the environment. On top of emitting large amounts of greenhouse gasses, vehicles cause noise pollution.

It doesn’t need to be this way. The problems associated with car dependency can be resolved with better public policies and urban design. If you’d like to make a direct impact on your own city’s development, attend your city’s town hall events! Public consultations on future projects are often announced on cities’ Facebook page and website.

Personally, I’ve been to an urban planning event with a friend, during which our municipality’s planners asked citizens their opinion on how our suburb should be developed. During our visit, we were the only young adults there, and the vast majority of the people present were elderly and white.

Although the opinion of this demographic is important, the lack of diversity in ethnicity and age among the attendees is concerning. Our suburb is known for being among the most multicultural in Canada, and it is home to numerous young families. The new urbanist policies will affect these families and adults that are currently of working age the most. Currently, my hometown is severely misrepresented, and yours might be too.

We have the power to influence our city’s design. We can prevent policies that hurt us in the long term and encourage those that will improve our hometowns, along with our well-being. In order to see the change we want, we must participate in our local government’s decision making and encourage the people around us to do the same.

If you’d like to learn more about how our cities’ urban policies affect our lives, you can start by checking out the following resources:

· Strong Towns, the book and the YouTube channel;

· Not Just Bikes on YouTube.

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