During our weekly breakfast meeting, Jon and I riffed on how the landscape of towns will change in the next decades.
My dad used to drive miles to save a few pennies on cases of bubbly water, because gasoline was cheap, roads were excellent and huge warehouse stores (think Walmart, Sam’s Mart, Costco) were being built on the periphery, where the land was inexpensive. Later, when he retired he tried to take over all shopping from my mom. She let him shop for a couple of weeks and then put an end to that. For her grocery-shopping was more than finding the best deal – which is how my dad approached it and consequently drove all over town – it was also a chance to run into friends and acquaintances and exchange news, it was an opportunity to change the food-menu according to what was fresh and available, and it was exercise since she walked everywhere. Well, she did let him continue to buy the cases of water (Geroldsteiner, if you want to know) because it was nice to have lots of that at home.
So, in the seventies and since then many super-stores were built outside of the centers and because gasoline was cheap and people wanted to save a buck, these stores flourished. Naturally many small stores in the center of town could not compete and closed up.
Guess what, now we will depend on new small groceries opening up within walking distance and it will seem frivolous to drive for miles to shop at a giant warehouse – let’s not even talk about the lack of service in those giant places. Going to the corner-grocer is a social event, a community-building event even. Going to Costco is a drag – at least for me… maybe other people enjoy it. I hate the sound in those cavernous places, hate the lighting, etc….
Then I compared cigarettes to cars, inspired by this. The similarity in advertising styles is amazing. If you want to be cool, you gotta!!! What car they drive is generally more important to a guy, than how he dresses. Hm, actually that’s MUCH MORE IMPORTANT. If I only had the RIGHT car, chicks would dig me…
I remember the late sixties when every home had at least one nice cigarette container and many ashtrays and everyone coming for a visit was offered cigarettes. And I was often asked to buy more at the automat around the corner. Who would have believed then, that within just a few decades smoking would become a “bad thing”. No smoking in bars and restaurants. No smoking in airplanes or any public transportation. No smoking in the theater (they had ashtrays in movie theaters forty years ago!!!) or any public building. No smoking in your hosts house – unless they are smokers also.
I think that’s how we feel about cars in a couple of decades. Cars are bad for us. 30,000-40,000 die on American streets every year and that does not take into account all of the people who are in bad health because they don’t move unless they are in a car. If a car is cigarette, and a SUV is a cigar, then a hybrid car or even an all-electric car is a filtered cigarette. Kids are overweight because they don’t walk or bike to school – they are driven by their parents.
I think we will look back at this time and just simply shake our heads. Another nightmare that ended at last, like the cigarette nightmare. Will our landscape change a lot? You bet. Smaller stores in more neighborhoods rather than a couple of really large stores far away. Streets that are designed for pedestrians and bicyclists rather than cars. People looking for jobs and schools near home, or looking for homes near their job or school – and giving their employers and city planers hell if they don’t plan for that.
Check out how well the Romans designed cities in this beautiful book.