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Orson Barzola
Urban Studies 254
Paper 1
February 13, 2014

Living in the United States, we take certain luxuries for granted without
knowing the history or how it came to be. We move about from our hometowns in
search of work, socialization, community as well as integrity. Throughout the last
150 years, transportation has improved drastically, from horse and buggy, to driving
cars. Moving around has never been easier. Transportation is a topic widely
discussed in American Society, Jane Holtz Kay writes about it in her book, Asphalt
Nation: How the Automobile Took Over America And How We Can Take It Back. A
widely controversial topic, transportation in the United States raises several
concerns ranging from labor and human rights to environmental concerns. The car
is known to be utilized as a form of transportation, what people see but cover under
the rug is that it causes extensive damage to our earth.
Jane Holtz Kay argues that the Automobile took over America she mentions
that we did not choose the automobile over public/mass transit. She throws credit to
Henry Ford and his Model-T car early on in the twentieth century, among other
companies, as well as the rise of oil production in the United States that made us
favor more for private transportation.
To Begin with, the United States became the modern mecca it is known to be
during and after the industrial revolution. We started becoming a service based
economy instead of a manufacturing one; which meant most of the factories men,

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women and children worked in started to be phased in different parts of the United
States instead of being located in major cities. With the exception of the
automobile, Henry Ford created the model T car and made it an affordable
commodity for Americans to purchase. At the same time during the early 20 th
century, the United States was creating an everlasting method for people to get
around, Public Transportation. Robert Cerveno, author of The Transit Metropolis
has his own views on the automobile industry as well as the alternatives when it
comes to transportation. On the topic of the automobile, Cerveno mentions,
For the sake of sustainability, our auto-dependent lifestyle, the same one
that is to blame for the degradation of the environment, should be altered.
When it comes to our environment being polluted by the emissions of car,
Cerveno also states that a scientific consensus has been made based on human
made greenhouse gases, carbon dioxide, methane, as well as chlorofluorocarbons
are creating a cap in the earths atmosphere and this can be the cause of the
temperatures rising (Cerveno; 45).
We use our cars for a variety of things, it is our shield during inclement
weather or an unsafe environment, for the more obvious reason to transport us
from point A to B, some of us use our automobiles just for the sole reason that you
dont have to talk to any other local or foreigner but your own family/friends for the
duration of the journey, as opposed to public transportation, where you may be
situated next to a stranger. What most people are not aware of is that every mile
that the automobile is being used, is harming the very same environment that we
all call home, as well as the air we breathe. Jane Holtz Kay discusses how a car is
damaging to the environment even during the manufacturing stage. She states,

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The automobile has three stages, the development, its use on the road, and
its final moments. Before the car even left the plant, the car has created 29 tons of
waste. During its life on the road, the car scatters 40 pounds of tires, road pieces,
and debris from the breaks on the highway. During the end of the cars run, the car
produced 66 tons of carbon dioxide and 2.7 billion cubic yards of polluted air (Holtz
Kay, 92-93).
Advantages of having a car vs mass transit is that you are not dropped off at
a predetermined location unless you make it the choice. When someone drives a
car, they usually go to the specific destination requested. Mass transit has planned
out the stations or bus stops along a specific route in which the conductor will go to.
If you are lucky, your destination will be close by; if not, it is either a long walk there
or transfers to another train or bus. What I am trying to say is that with an
automobile, there is more freedom as to where to go, there are no planned out
stops. Advantages to having a car is being able to come and go as you please
without having to wait for a train or bus. Date did not go so well? Get on your car
and head home. Have a family and want to go to a park outing for the day? Pack up
the jeep and load the family in. People use the car as a way of meditating during
their commute, some people like being alone while they commute, for some people
driving alone is the only time they have to themselves.
Along with advantages of having a car, there are also disadvantages. A car is
not a one-time pay and drive type of object. Gas is costly, the automobile and
further advances in transportation such as the airplane (we will only focus on the
automobile here) created oil production, which also caused prices in oil to spike.
When it comes to the finances of an automobile, Robert Cerveno discusses how
Americans drop the $20,000-$40,000 out of their wallets for a car as a subscription

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fee. He also mentions that the payment is pivotal to have full access to what
society hands out for having a car.
Disadvantages to having a car range from expensive gas prices, to expensive
maintenance, as well as having insurance for the car; one cant maintain a car in
perfect shape by driving slowly or cautiously. In 1993, Americans paid just 60
percent of the costs to road construction, maintenance, administration and law
enforcement through taxes which was equivalent to about $35 Billion dollars
(Cerveno; 35). Commuting from different parts of a city to get to work can be
difficult when it comes to living in the suburbs where the closest bus and train stops
can be some miles away, throughout the 20th century and the creation of suburbs,
more people are commuting from them than the actual city. Robert Cerveno states
that due to decentralization twice as many commutes take place within the suburbs
(Cerveno; 30).
A commuter myself, I use public transportation everywhere I go, a
disadvantage living in an auto dependent culture is having friends that live farther
out in the suburbs than I do, most of them have cars, I use public transit or call for
taxi service. An example I can recall was going to my friends barbecue, she lives 10
minutes away from JFK Airport by Long Island, I live 10 minutes away from JFK
towards Brooklyn, on a Sunday public transit in my neighborhood is unreliable so I
had no choice but to call a cab. Robert Cerveno talks upon decentralization and
exclusionary zoning and how it does not bring people together, instead keeps them
separate. Research in the United States throws blame to exclusionary zoning
because it keeps affordable housing out of areas where the jobs are booming. Some
factors of exclusionary zoning point to being in a good school district which can also
account for the increase in commuting distance (Cerveno; 33).

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The creation of the highways can also be credited to the reason why there are
more cars out in the road, the highway is considered a public form of transportation
(in my eye) because the cars (Private entities in my view) are using it to get around.
When it comes to highways and its relations with the individuals that drive on them,
Kay mentions, The commuters trip should jar us to a realization of the auto-bound
life that penalizes both non-drivers and drivers of our 200 million motor vehicles
(Chapter 1). When a highway is built, towns and cities form along them. Cities
throughout the United States are purposely built for residents to have their own car.
An example from Chapter 3 would be the creation of Broadacre City,
A creation by Frank Lloyd Wright, a lover of fast cars and single family
homes, his 1935 plan included five hundred houses for every square mile, multiple
lane highways, no railroad, no streetcars, no slum, and no menace.
A perfect city for the perfect residents, those that have an income, and those
that have a car; you would be out of luck not having one and living in Broadacre.
Among other factors, Jane Holtz Kay also mentions the outcomes on the
environment when it comes to having an automobile. When it comes to living in a
culture where a car is a focal point of someones lifestyle, driving a car is not cheap.
The creation of highways to ease up transportation comes to mind. According to
Jane Holtz Kay, money makes planning go round. People do not just pay for the car
they drive; they pay for the highways to drive them in. The Century Freeway is the
most expensive road in American history, valued at $2.2 Billion it is seventeen miles
long, and the residents of Los Angeles deem it awesome due to its structure (Holtz
Kay; 117). Resembling a rollercoaster in some areas, and its impressive five stacks
of highways, and its eleven bridges spanning to and from LAX airport, the Century

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Freeway was not built overnight, after 35 years of planning and its costing of $130
million a mile, officials considered the freeway a once-in-a-century event (Holtz
Kay 117).
Oil production spiked during the mid-20th century, oil was not at its peak level
which meant it was not scarce and there was plenty of it. In her book, Jane Holtz Kay
discusses that oil fuels our driving. With two-thirds of Americas petroleum going to
mainly transportation, 80 percent is going to motor vehicles (Holtz Kay; 94). When
the ExxonValdez hit a reef off the coast of Alaska, Greenpeace made an
advertisement in contrary of motor vehicles by saying it was not the barges
captains fault it slammed into a reef and caused a massive oil spill, it was our fault
for demanding oil to fuel our cars. (Holtz Kay; 94). Families were not just buying
one car, little skeeter was turning 16 and he had to get one, or he would die of
embarrassment if he was still to be chaperoned to school or on dates, and husband
did not really drive because wife would take him to the railroad station and drop him
off. After that, wife had the car to herself for the entire course of the day all so she
can run errands, get her hair done, pick up her younger children from school, and by
6PM back over to the railroad stop to greet her husband. Will Americans ever fully
use mass transit? There is a huge doubt to that question.
Being that there are newer cars coming out and the older cars are now
deemed polluting what was once a chick magnet is now a gas guzzling death trap.
Americans will keep at it with the automobile; I believe that the creation of suburbia
is what made three major markets explode with profit, the real estate market, the
automobile industry, oil production. Our lifestyle has made us more dependent on
our cars mostly because of our geographical location. It is said that when we buy
the house, we are also buying the school district, since Cerveno mentioned the fact

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that decentralization does not bring people and jobs closer, we go out and search
for integrity and community. We go outside of the city to make a better life for
ourselves and our families, and get used to the consequences by being stuck in
traffic, or taking an hour to commute to work. Going back to mass transit would
mean going back to living in the city, or within city limits and get off at
predetermined stops and having to mingle with other commuters instead of being in
the comfort of your own car. I dont think America would consider it.
The automobile industry is sort of a take it or leave it type of industry. If
you are able to afford a car and maintaining it, go ahead and buy one, but if you
cannot afford it, public transportation is available. Living in the inner city, one is
used to not having a car; where would you park it? What if someone breaks in and
steals it? The thought of driving and having a car in cities such as Manhattan make
people cringe, the expenses, the parking, the traffic, makes it all worthwhile having
a Metrocard and the subway system within access. We live in a capitalist society,
the car was made to become a status symbol; if you are not driving a car or at least
a passenger in one, then you are in the loser-cruiser, doing the right thing.
Works Cited
Cervero, Robert. The Transit Metropolis: A Global Inquiry. Washington, D.C.: Island,
1998. Print.
Kay, Jane Holtz. Asphalt Nation: How the Automobile Took over America, and How
We Can Take It Back.
Berkeley,: University of California, 1998. Print.