24 April 2010


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I live in Pasadena, California. I have lived and/or worked here since 1991. I walk a lot, to work, to the store, for recreation. I have been thinking about this city as I walk, about it's buildings and how its inhabitants get around.

I should say I walk, but I love my car. It's an Audi Avant, the latest in a series of Audi's that I have owned, a crafted automobile by means of technology, build-quality, and beautiful design. In this exquisite piece of machinery, I can easily carry around friends, my bike, or my band equipment. When it's washed and polished, I'm fond of turning around and looking at it and marveling in its perfection. I admit, I am a full subscriber in the Southern California car culture. So here, with our abject love of cars, why be silly and talk about walking?


It's no secret that Southern Californians love to drive- it's our identity. You are what you drive. For many of us there exists in our minds (despite some evidence to the contrary) an idealized community where the car may be used 'as it was meant to be used'. We slip behind the wheel of our special leather-lined cocoon, our efficient Japanese appliance, our road warrior SUVs, or in our flash red convertible. The car is out self-expression fantasy about movement, freedom, and status. We imagine quickly moving through a beautiful manicured landscape or natural environment, powered by $1.03 a gallon gasoline. There are no frustrations to our drive, and all the other motorists are courteous and admit that we are right. We have the freedom to get together with others at a whim, because we are all taking advantage of our own separate and private transportation fantasy. We have the advantage of an ability to carry large amounts of things with as little lugging as possible, right from door to door-- we can stop at the Wal-Mart, Costco, and the other big boxes and really stocking-up on all the things we think we need. The independent motorization of our society- one of the great inventions of the 20th century!

What a world! Our neighbors are great, our schools are great, we live in a great and wholesome place to raise our children. Our cars, the great form of personal expression that we love, is what makes this life possible. Why would anyone want to do anything different?

Alas, we have to admit that we devote great amounts of personal resources to our cars, and for all the pleasure and convenience they provide, the horrific amount of time we consume in commuting, and the terrible amounts of money we spend, and the loss of personal contact that many of us experience in this reality places a great challenge our mobile dreams.

The pursuit of where we can make this dream happen is never ending. Some of us give the dream up, and compromise, making other factors in our lives more important then just moving soothly around in a car. But many of us continue to move away from the congested and expensive core in the drive towards freedom and mobility. Yet it seems like this pursuit is never ending- the places on the outskirts we have found, attractive in their rural qualities, over time become busier and more hectic as they have attracted more to the dream. Injury to insult, they are the first places to suffer in an economic turn-down, taking the brunt of foreclosures and real estate collapse. So the outward pursuit continues.

I confess to have had an attraction to all of that, to clear new land to build buildings. But I find that it's a destination that one can never arrive at.

I love to walk, though. To be on a great street, to look at good buildings, get a feel for the activities going on, see someone I know.

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