I’m in Santa Clara at ETCON. Last year, I travelled down from San Francisco on the CalTrain, through a landscape I was not familiar with the reality of, but had visted a thousand times in movies and on the television: American Suburbia.
This year is a little different, as I have a hire car. A four-wheeled symphony in biege, it’s transformed my view of the burbscape.
Last year, I was stuck in the hotel, and at the mercy of those who could give me a ride in their cars. This year, I am the master of my own velocity. I can go where I want, when I want.
My when’s been screwed-up by the jetlag, and my where by the burbscape. There’s no centre to the sprawl. The “cities” of Santa Clara, Sunnyvale and San Jose spread their edges into each other, seen from the freeway. Signage is the only declaration of division; the only tell-tale of the territory.
“There’s no there, there” as Gertrude Stein said. No sense of place or centre. Impossible to find, impossible to feel. Reyner Banham christened this “autopia” in “Los Angeles: the architecture of four ecologies”. Built around the car, and the freedom of movement that promises. Radically decentralising and dehumanising the intersitial space and arteries of the city.
I’d read his and other accounts of this ecology, this mental and physical landscape, but to experience it is disturbing. Driving to the hotel yesterday, it finally came home to me exactly how radical the Segway Human Transporter is within this context. It always seemed kind of cool to me, but being a european city dweller, used to the walkable city; and moreover – a visitor to walkable American cities, such as NYC and SF; it was a revelation.
Coindentally, outside our room this morning lay USAToday, with a cover splash on the design of American cities being bad for people’s health and lifestyle:
“Why don’t Americans walk anywhere?
Old answer: They’re lazy.
New answer: They can’t.
There is no sidewalk outside the front door, school is 5 miles away, and there’s a six-lane highway between home and the supermarket.
Many experts on public health say the way neighborhoods are built is to blame for Americans’ physical inactivity — and the resulting epidemic of obesity. “
and further on in the article:
“Why you can’t walk there from here:
* Spread-out neighborhoods. Bigger houses on bigger lots mean neighborhoods stretch beyond walking distance for doing errands.
* Zoning. Residential neighborhoods are far from jobs and shopping centers, even schools.
* Reign of cars. Roads are built big and busy. Intersections and crosswalks are rare. Shopping centers and office parks are set in the middle of big parking lots, all of which have become dangerous places to walk. In many cul-de-sac suburbs and along shopping strips, sidewalks don’t exist.
Suddenly, the crowded city looks healthy.”
» USAToday: The way cities and suburbs are developed could be bad for your health by Martha T. Moore