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Driving Is Losing Its Allure for More Americans (wsj.com)
120 points by bootload on Feb 7, 2016 | hide | past | web | favorite | 187 comments



I was not to see the whole article because it is behind a paywall, but one thing that might affect the driving habits of the under 25 cohort is that people in general are waiting later to have children.

Having children dramatically changes the calculus involved with driving a car. When I was single I really did not have to shop much, it was easy for me to walk or bike to school or work even in bad weather and I could choose a not so good place to live that was cheap and close to work cause I really did not spend too much time at home except for crashing at night.

With children now, I have to buy a lot more supplies. To save money I often buy stuff in bulk. Also, I am more concerned about neighborhood safety and good schools. Now a place that meets my criteria at a price I can afford is likely to not be within walking or biking distance from work. Also, when I want to go somewhere in inclement weather, I find it more preferable for me to put my children in my dry climate controlled car, than to have to worry about if they are getting wet, cold, or hot.

My point is not to talk about driving being good or bad but to point out that having children can be a huge confounding factor when looking driving trends and drawing conclusions about these trends without taking into account the larger demographic trends surrounding when people are having children is likes to be misleading.


This is a big deal, unfortunately. I am super onboard with the urbanization movement, but cost of a 3-4 bedroom living space is not cheap in an urban area. I really don't want to raise my kids in a suburb - my wife and I grew up in that environment and it was unpleasant. But we may be forced that direction just to afford to have enough space for 1-2 children. :-(

edit to add some color commentary: I would mostly like to sell my car and not buy another one; I would like to use public transit everywhere; I would like to live in a high-density area with 6+ story residences. Many benefits accrue in these situations; I don't understand the pleasure or enjoyment of living outside of that kind of environment - having done so myself, the more urban the area, the better living it is.


What about suburban family life was unpleasant? I'm curious what you think the upsides are for raising kids in a city, which I personally think is a bad idea. Kids need an environment where they can go outside and be kids without all the difficulties a city adds.


I'd argue the opposite to be honest. Kids need the difficulties they face in cities. I grew up in a half/half environment due to divorced parents and I can easily say that kids coming out of city schools have more 'life' skills. In this environment kids are forced to deal with many different cultures/backgrounds at a young age and learn the importance of getting to know other types of people.

In suburban environments (I don't have a direct source right now, but it's sorta of widely accepted) kids often are among peers exactly like themselves. This really does nothing for development, especially if 90% of the school is of a certain race/culture...which typically happens in divided suburban environments.

In addition to this, they are also exposed to the realities of life. Seeing homeless panhandling, the speed of the city, the ever changing environment, it's a good representation of what someone might face in life. Being exposed to these elements builds a stronger person.

Sure they might have an overall different outcome of life, for example kids certainly aren't dirtbiking/atving in the city, but that all comes down to exposure, parenting, and self interest.


I'd just let to echo this. I personally grew up in one of these homogeneous, suburban environments and I feel like I acquired the meaningful life experiences that I truly needed much later than others who grew up in more urban environments. IMO, the "danger" of city life is incredibly overblown. I actually know far more people struggling with drug addiction in the suburbs where I grew up than in the city where I now live.


Not to mention the fact that the reason urban areas have a reputation for crime, drug abuse, and other "social ills" is in large part due to "white fight" as it were.

Even setting aside the racial component for a second, it stands to reason that if cities are "tough" because everyone with the means toward a more stable and comfortable life moved to the suburbs, then many of those same issues with poverty and resulting crime and drug abuse would be lessened by un-segregating things.

If cities are rough because it's accepted that anyone with the means will leave, then they become less so when the urban/suburban split doesn't mirror the poor/rich (or white/minority) split.


Agreed one hundred percent, being formatively from an urban background and then transported into suburbia in childhood. Much of my useful life experience and skills in that stage of life came from exposure to the reputed "grit" of cities.

Suburbia offered nothing in this regard. It was a contentless, vapid expanse of nothingness, where I couldn't go anywhere or do anything without being deliberately driven there by my parents.


As someone who grew up in a small city where pretty much everyone was white I would have to disagree.

Large cities are no place to rise children they are cramped, expensive and highly polluted the kids may get exposed to a higher diversity of people but that is not necessary at a young age. As long as you raise your children with your own values and teach them to have and open and accepting mind it doesn't matter where they are.

I have no problem interacting with different kinds of people even though i only got exposed to such diversity after i graduated university and I could never imagine growing up in a large city it would have been awful.

Hell personally I'm trying to move to a smaller city close by to London and take up more remote work so i can actually have more breathing room.

I absolutely have the expensive, small and badly maintained spaces that tend to be the norm in large cities.

US cities are a bit different you could probably live comfortably if you are ok with needing to drive everywhere but that's ridiculous to. I don't have a driver's license I never needed one since everything I ever wanted was a walk away and if it was further I could just take public transportation even in the small city I grew up in.

Spending so much money maintaining and fuelling a car is a waste of resources.


Not every city is London or Manhattan.

And I'm not sure even those would be "highly polluted" these days (big Asian cities definitely are though - and I wouldn't want to raise my kids in New Delhi or Beijing).

My wife grew up in Vienna and my son will grow up in Berlin, I think both provide for a much more interesting childhood than the suburb I grew up in, and are not really polluted or dangerous (maybe some parts are, but we don't have to live downtown to get the benefits of the city).



Fair enough! It never really felt bad to me in Vienna or Berlin, but I have a Canadian friend who always complains about the air quality compared to Vancouver so I guess it's always relative to what you're used to.

Berlin in particular has a lot of late 1800s "railway suburbs" which have been politically integrated into the city-proper in the 20th century & are now just outer districts of the city.

These are plenty green and still well served by the city's rail and subway network, so you sort of get the best of both worlds (commute times are still longer compared to living in a more central district, but that highly depends on where in the city you work).


I only really notice it when I've been out of London for a few days. Although I rarely venture into the centre where it's worst.


I used to think London or New York could get polluted when it was a little hazy to see the Gherkin or Empire State Building. Then I moved to Sarajevo in December. It makes my lungs feel like I sucked down two packs of cigarettes every time I walk out of my front door.

I will never complain about pollution again (I'm not saying any amount is good, but there are children all over the world living in much worse conditions than London at 17:30).


Suburbs are highly segregated economically and racially. I grew up in the Northern VA suburbs and didn't meet a black person until middle school. Suburbs also make kids totally dependent on their parents to get to activities, friends, etc. Finally, suburbs are incredibly dangerous. The #1 cause of death for teenagers is car accidents. Your 15-19 year old is a lot safer in the city than driving around the suburbs.


Suburbs also make kids totally dependent on their parents to get to activities, friends, etc.

Yes! And the deleterious effect of this is underappreciated and understated. It's not just a convenience and logistical issue; it materially alters the nature and quality of the connection one has with surrounding society, and leads to _different kind_ of social relations over time.

Kids cannot "be kids" when their life lacks social spontaneity (and in fact, there is some question about adults being adults as well), when their life is a directed graph and a collection of automobile vectors, subordinated to the rhythms and whims of their parents to drive them.

As a child, I did not immediately understand this paradigm shift as I underwent it, which led me for years to struggle with this great, nonarticulated malaise for which I had no name. It's only with the benefit of hindsight that I understand that I was unable to cope with living "nowhere in particular", which suitably describes 90% of inhabited areas in the US, including places that are notionally urban. Much of DFW should be reclassified as a rural area.


Not all suburbs are created equal? I grew up in a suburb and only had to be driven to school (took the bus). My friends mostly lived in the same neighborhood and roughly 1/2 were black. The burb also gave me a lot of freedom. The only rules were not to cross the highway on one side or the rather large river on the other. There was a closed down school nearby along with a lot of parks so we had ample space for sports.

Maybe you just don't like affluent, segregated suburbs?


New vs. old might also be a factor. I live in Atlanta and detest virtually all Sun Belt development in the last few decades because it's so spread out.

The suburbs in the Rust Belt, in places like South Bend, IN (where I spent my elementary school years), or Buffalo, NY, are a lot more dense and palatable in this regard. I'd still dislike living there, but it's a far cry from living truly, honest-to-god in the middle of nowhere in places like ATL, DFW, PHX...


None of ATL, DFW, or PHX can honestly be described as the middle of nowhere. Perhaps "middle of nowhere" is just your strongest verbal condemnation of a location, but using it as such dilutes the quality of discussion by robbing it of precision.

On a separate note, ATL, DFW, and PHX are all awful to me as well, but that's because of the life-draining sprawl, not because they're sparse. I fear for the future of housing every time I have a window seat in or out of ATL looking at those developments.


Er, sprawl is sparse. Sprawl is practically by definition 'low-density.'


Maybe it's different over there in the US, but as someone who lived in a lot of surburban places in the UK and other parts of Europe... well, they're not all that different from the standard town or city here. Perfectly possible to get around without a car, with a decent high street, various transport connections and a bunch of nearby activities for kids and families. You could (theoretically) live and work in these areas while relying solely on public transport.

Yet despite this, I'd say that the decline in the number of kids and young people driving is a fair bit less than it seemingly is in the states.


It is very different in the US. US suburbs were designed around the automobile, and their original raison dêtre is to be accessible only via car: they were sited just far enough by from the nearest urban area (or adjacent suburb) to allow predominate free-standing houses with yards.


"Suburb" has shades of meaning here in the U.S. too, but I think most people think of the sprawling new city suburbs when they use the term. When I lived in New York, I lived in a small suburb, but we had a cute little downtown and regional rail access to New York City. We rarely drove there. But most U.S. suburbs are not like that. They're like my parents' suburb in Virginia: where you can't really even leave the cul-de-sac on foot because you quickly hit a major road with no sidewalks.


Kids who go to schools in the suburbs tend to be a hell of a lot more integrated than their urban counterparts.


Cities make it easier for kids to go outside and be kids. The need for car transport that RcouF1uZ4gsC brings up applies to kids as much as adults. It limits who they can interact with down to a few kids from the local street and their activities to those parents are willing to drive them to which harms socialisation even more.

Basic things like seeing a film with friends, playing a sport, or going on a date become way bigger deals than they otherwise need to be. Being the kid that always needed exact locations and times for things to be able to participate was always a huge PITA for me.

I'd say at the very least that parents choosing the suburban life should do so understanding that they're signing themselves up for extreme taxi duty and that their child doesn't really have much power in deciding when things start/end. Actually, nowadays maybe Uber on your kids phone would do the job.


"Cities make it easier for kids to go outside and be kids."

The other way round. I grew up in the countryside and we could literally play on the streets without risk. Visiting friends was actually easier. We simply took the bike, the rollerskates or - later - a motor scooter. No need for any parent to drive anybody anywhere. No need to use public transportation. All my schoolmates lived in bike distance (that is 25 km in my definition).

Of course it counts how safe your country or city is. It is our business to make them safe, not to hide in cars, because otherwise we may be harmed.


Again, it depends...

I live out in the country. My 15 y-o son has one friend who lives within walking distance and his parents keep him pretty busy with extracurricular activities, so he's never home. When you're an adult, being close to nature sounds cool. When you're 15, it's boring beyond belief.


I'm not pnathan, but I grew up in the suburbs and am never going back; my spouse and I have raised our kid in the city for several years now. Why didn't I like it?

- The sameness. Every house on the streets where I grew up looked virtually identical, as did the neighborhood where I bought my first house. It took owning a house in the 'burbs to remember how much I didn't like the cookie-cutter aspect. Doubly so for the fact that virtually every suburban neighborhood built in the past 20 years has an HOA, which I detest.

- The distance. Going to anything, even just a Wal-Mart to get groceries, meant a minimum of 10 minutes just to get out of the "residential area" and make it to the "commercial area." The one corner store we had was usually under pressure from the city government and nearby residents to close down because of, allegedly, too much traffic.

- Minimal cultural differences. Yes, my hometown had a Western Days Weekend and an Old Town District but that was it. The town where I bought my first house (this was a bad idea, in retrospect) didn't even bother with that. Everything else in both places was strip shopping centers or Wal-Mart or paved six-lane roadways to get people out of town to the big city for work and then back into town to get to sleep at night. Going to do anything, like a zoo or museum or a baseball game, meant a half-hour minimum drive. There are lots of suburbs in north Texas, let's say, that exist solely for zoning authority.

You mentioned being outside and being kids. The city where I live now, Seattle, has a massive parks system. My tiny house on a tiny lot in the city still has about 1,600sqft of outdoor area to play in and a huge tree. Even the apartments we've rented have a courtyard and are near to parks and sidewalks and places to play. It's great for people whose kids are outdoor types; mine prefers to be inside with books and puzzles and computers.

What I like about raising our kid in the city: Exposure to new and different ideas; most cities aren't self-selected to be the same as each other. A varying cityscape that isn't just the same houses feeding to the same street and to the same businesses. More cultural and entertainment options are close at hand. Being able to live in a more environmentally sensitive way (my kid doesn't want to learn how to drive and prefers to take transit and has made compost and recycle separating into a game).


The distance I will totally back up. As a kid in a suburban area, I couldn't do anything without parents to drive me - meet friends, head to a decent park, go out to a movie.

Of course, this can be fixed when you're old enough to get a car, but that adds a) expense for the parents, and b) a lot of danger. Having 16- and 17-year-olds driving everywhere might not be the best idea.


I remember riding a bike pretty much everywhere within about a 20 mile radius of home (including a couple nearby small cities). (To be honest though I don't think any of our parents realized just how far we travelled or they might have objected -- on the other hand, I don't think they were that likely to start driving us everywhere back then either.)


In West LA in the 90s? No way any sane parent would let their kids bike on city streets.

One of the things that's actually made me optimistic about suburban California is the proliferation of bike lanes. Definitely makes the whole environment more livable, for kids especially, and makes public transit a lot more practical for everyone.


I grew up in an older suburb that still had sidewalks, so I could walk to friends houses, the park, and even a movie (the local theater is actually closer to my parents' house than my local theater is now in Brooklyn).


OT: waves - hi there fellow Seattleite!


Hello to you, too. Hopefully you can find something inside the city that makes you happy. There are still deals to be had, even on small 3BRs.


I've answered the starting question elsewhere in this thread.

> Kids need an environment where they can go outside and be kids

This is completely specifically isolated to your perception of what it means to be a kid. After doing minor reading on family history, what kids do, what it means to be a kid, and the environment they need are extremely culturally isolated to time and space. It's become obvious to me that practically anywhere can be a wholesome place to raise a child. For instance, what about a child in Mumbai today? Or the middle of Mexico City? Or Cairo? Are they so stunted? It simply doesn't compute that every child has to be raised in a suburban house to be a full adult with a happy childhood.


In rural environments, you go outside and interact with nature; in urban environments, you go outside and interact with people. In the suburbs, you go outside, interact with nothing, wonder why you bothered, and go back inside. Suburbs are supposed to be safe, not interesting. Real estate investments from beginning to end, they focus entirely on private property, wasting space on public amenities only to whatever minimum is necessary to avoid alienating potential buyers. Suburbs are empty, tedious places unless you have a car you can escape in: raise a kid there and you're either committing them to the boob tube or taking up a second career as a taxi driver.

My parents moved to a suburb of Sacramento when I was 8. I didn't mind at first, but it was a real letdown when I realized, after a few years, that we weren't going to be moving on this time. I couldn't understand why, when we'd been to so many interesting places, they chose THAT one to settle in! I grew to loathe the place and could not get far enough away when I was finally able to leave. To this day, I don't even like to visit suburban areas. I live a mile and a half from the center of Seattle and it still feels too suburban sometimes. I'd be a lot closer in if I could have afforded it when I was shopping for a house. I would not ever want to put a child of my own through a suburban upbringing.


>Kids need an environment where they can go outside and be kids without all the difficulties a city adds.

This is a completely subjective opinion being passed around as fact. My parents divorced when I was very young so I grew up going back and forth between houses. My mom lived in suburban areas and my dad lived in a more condensed area(not as condensed as Chicago/Baltimore but still not a suburb). I greatly preferred being with my dad just because of the area. Just because my friends and I didn't play basketball in the front yard doesn't mean we didn't have space to be a kid. We would walk to all the stores or just explore the city. If we wanted to run around and play then parks were abundant.


https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Vf8jvSPA3XQ

That given, in hindsight I'm very grateful for my upbringing in a white, Mormon, newly-being-built-out-in-the-90s, right-on-the-foothills suburb in Utah. I made the decision to leave that culture, but after living and visiting around various places in the Seattle area and seeing all the "diversity", I'm unconvinced anything out here is really "better", just a different set of tradeoffs. (Lack of Depth being one of them.)


Not everyone feels this way though. I had a fairly rural upbringing in the northeast and I long for a less dense, no traffic, laid back way of life. Unfortunately, our culture has chosen to forget that way of life. However, one aspect of living a rural lifestyle is that life without a car is almost impossible in this day in age.

I personally think urbanization brings with it more problems that it solves. While they are more social perhaps, cities are anything but sustainable and aren't a natural way for humans to live with nature. Cities are a breeding ground for man made disaster and are IMHO one of the reason the fear of terrorism is winning out over personal freedom.


I'm not sure why you'd say that cities are unsustainable. All the folks who research this stuff seem to agree that urban living is more sustainable; urbanites tend to use less resources every way you cut it. They drive less, their houses are smaller, their houses leak less energy because they typically have fewer surfaces exposed to the outside environment, they can rely more on common infrastructure for moving resources around instead of having to have everything moved around by truck, etc etc.

I'm also not convinced you can really blame urbanites for the fear of terrorism. Cities might be the preferred target for terrorist attacks, but at least in the USA people it's rural folks who tend to be more worried about terrorism while urbanites tend to take a more balanced view of the subject.


Suburbs also make kids totally dependent on their parents to get to activities, friends, etc.

[Highly urban-oriented personality here, decidedly with you in general ...]

Here, a purely rationalistic and quantitative analysis might not back this up. It's not necessarily clear that there are fewer vehicle-miles travelled and fossil fuels expended in stocking every corner grocery in a dense urban metropolis vs. one 3000-mile salad backhauled to a Walmart SuperCenter to which everyone within a 10 mi radius has to drive. Pound for pound, the latter approach might actually be more cost and resource-efficient in a lot of cases.

But of course, there's more to life than robotic efficiency.


They made much smaller 3/4 bedroom homes before Ww2 and the ascent of the car. Many of them lacked driveways. You can pack a lot of homes like that into a small space and then get good LRT service to a nearby corner. Cities were built for that before - look at old industrial towns like Pittsburgh and Flint. If we can salvage those old industrial cities, there's great opportunity there for transit-oriented living without giving up single-family homes.

I live in Hamilton, which is the Pittsburgh of Canada, and there is great promise here for the "have it all" urban lifestyle.


You don't even have to give up driveways and garages; it's entirely possible to build townhouses (row houses) with a 1-car garage on the ground floor. I lived in one of those years ago: the "main floor" (as seen from the front) was really the 2nd floor, and the basement floor had a 1-car garage which opened out to the back. It's entirely possible to build lots of these in cities and get a good amount of living space plus room for a car. Just look at the "brownstones" in Manhattan NYC; those things had tons of room in them, but were narrow so you could pack a lot in a given space. They had so much room that these days most of them are split up into 2-4 separate units and rented out.


Just curious, what did you and your wife find unpleasant about growing up in the suburbs? I grew up in a suburb and loved it very much.


After reading many replies it sounds like many people lived in horrible places, not just that they were suburbs. I live in what would be considered suburb now and would have loved to be here as a kid. A river with docks is only a block or so away. There are multiple fields and parks. There are tennis courts and a pool. Sidewalks also blanket the whole neighborhood which you can follow up to the closest grocery store.

If I wanted to go to the city I have to drive, that is a downside. But, when I was working from home full time I was debating on getting a golf cart and seeing how long I would go without driving my car.


America has been building suburbs for 100 years so there's a lot of variation— I grew up in a walkable streetcar suburb of Milwaukee that was right next to the city and looked like many urban neighborhoods, with narrow streets and sidewalks and a decent mix of multifamily housing.

Most people still drove for transportation, but it wasn't nearly as mandatory as in many post-1970 suburbs.


As the other poster said, there's a lot of variation in "suburbs" in America. I recently lived a township in northern NJ, which effectively was a "suburb" in the NYC metro area. There was a convenience store just down the street (a 1-minute walk away), a high school right next door, a small river and a park a few minutes away, a "downtown" area less than 10 minutes' walk away, etc. A bug stop at the end of my little street took me to Manhattan in less than 60 minutes. If I wanted to go to other nearby towns, however, I needed a car because the buses were too slow, though a fair number of (poorer) people did use them for that. The houses were really close together and typically quite old; mine was built in 1930. Heating costs were high though because those old houses aren't well-insulated (and that house had been renovated with new windows so it wasn't too horrible, unlike some others). There were lots of sidewalks everywhere, though they tended to be in rough shape in places because of all the salt in the winter; they had to replace them a lot.

I also lived in the Phoenix metro area for quite a while. That was totally different. No shopping within walking distance at all, if you were lucky there might be some kind of park near your development, but older neighborhoods usually didn't have that. HOAs were commonplace and horribly run. There were sidewalks everywhere, but they were only good for walking around the neighborhood to get some exercise, not for actually going anywhere. Any place you might want to go required a car, and public transit was really awful. There were buses, but they tended to go to major destinations, and suburban housing developments weren't among them.

Honestly, I think we'd all be a lot better off if we had much higher-density housing with mixed commercial/residential areas so it was easy to walk to nearby eateries and convenience stores. The problem is the rent prices are always much too high, and I'd like to see some kind of political action to deal with that. I suspect the culprit is a combination of real estate speculation and insufficient supply caused by zoning laws.


Not American (aus), and not op, but I grew up and moved between semi-rural, suburban, and now am in a city.

Now, the human being is a pretty adaptable creature that normalises what they experience every day, so a lot of these are things I only noticed after moving from environment to environment.

I think I got just as much additional activity time in the rural setting as I did growing up in suburbia, because trips to playground or ovals or swimming pools or tennis courts all involved car trips. Ditto shopping, movies, etc. Of course, now I'm an adult, I know commute times need to be added as a downside.

Where the suburbs turned into "hell on earth" was during the teen years, when you're struggling for independence/stimulation, but you're stuck in the teenage equivalent of solitary confinement. The internet came just in time for me. As I've said before, it all just seemed normal then, but as I moved around, I learnt that there were places in the world you could walk to the supermarket/movies/library. Where buses came more than once every 2 hours and didn't involve a half hour wait to get what was notionally a few km's down the road. Where your friends actually lived close enough for you to visit. And those facilities where you had to get into the car? Well now they are just down the road too and you can walk, or catch the sub-15 minute public transport straight there.

We're definitely going to give the urban child thing a go if we have children. Though part of that will necessarily mean a change of attitude. We no longer want a 4 bedroom house with a backyard for kids, primarily because large parts of what we would of tried to have gained by having such space can instead be outsourced to community facilities instead.


We were dependant on our parents to do anything or go anywhere that was more than a few blocks away. No infrastructure for biking existed worth talking about. Sidewalks were sketchy; no one expected pedestrians. Visiting friends was hard, and depended on parental coordination.

Any sort of outing was a Big Deal; kids had to be wrapped up and put in the car, then we all had to trundle off somewhere, then the reverse had to be put into motion.

A transit system in a dense urban area makes these issues go away.

Slightly location dependant - there were no museums of quality[0] within hundreds of miles; same for zoos, libraries[1], symphonies, operas, plays, etc. Density drives tax base and demand; any reasonable urban area has all of the above.

Suburbs, as a common rule of thumb, strive for conformity and blandness. This has held true since the white flight era in the US[2]. So you wind up with really crappy aesthetics, and uninteresting options for engagement. A very common result is the alienated suburban teenager bored out of their skull. We were, to greater and lesser degrees.

Now, as adults, we both recognize several serious problems with the suburb/exurb system in the US.

1. It's not sustainable economically. You have a huge infrastructure system on a low density population; hard choices start coming out to play because of the cost of maintenance, which generally was capitalized by developers, but the opex is borne by the government; local politics in the US has evidently generally shifted to anti-tax Republican demographics; with fewer people supporting the burden, issues come out to play. So the net result is life is getting worse there.

2. It's not environmentally sustainable. Efficiency rises significantly as you start densifying the region; new services become possible at critical masses - one of the big ones is transit. This drives pollution down, decreases oil use, etc, etc.

3. It promotes closed-mindedness; without having to deal with the breadth of humanity, you don't have to cope with all of the reality involved, leading to really terrible policy decisions. Forcing contact with The Other and humanizing them tends to work out better in the long run. Referencing current politics: https://twitter.com/nycjim/status/687997269258407937 . NYC's great strength is having to deal with other people.

Anyway, if you take some time to look carefully at the "new urbanist" movement, these themes are repeated over and over again. It's not democrat, republican, libertarian, or green; but it recognizes many of the issues those viewpoints present. I'm not ashamed to say that I'd rather live in Manhattan, NYC than in any arbitrary suburb I know of (Now, if I could afford that in a residence I could raise kids in... :( ).

[0] Local History Museum is what was available.

[1] Less of a problem as a young child, much more of a problem as a teen.

[2] Note that "urban" is often an appellation on something meaning "black people". I wouldn't actually call suburbs racist by design, but I would invite quiet contemplation of race and environment in the US.


As a native Eastern European (who has been in the US most of his life), I'm still occasionally flabbergasted at the paucity of 3+ bedroom apartment options in US cities, as well as how crappy the <= 2 BR options are. It seems there's a cultural expectation that once there's more than two of you, you move out to the suburbs and buy a freestanding house. Like you, I have absolutely zero intention of following that script.

Central/Eastern European apartments often had a small foyer, a narrow hall way, and doors along the perimeter into ~2-3 rooms--sometimes more. The hallway usually had closet space. One room was generally somewhat bigger than the others and understood to be a "living room". Kitchens were separate rooms and often had a door of their own, which effectively meant they were an additional room, since one could work, study and socialise at the kitchen table. Overall, there was much more compartmentalisation and walls, which I think is essential if you have children, but even if you don't. Interestingly, I wouldn't say their area was much bigger than 1-2 BR apartments typically found in America--the floor plan was just configured much more rationally. Such apartments were fairly close to table stakes in former socialist bloc countries, as well as elsewhere in central Europe.

For instance, my wife and I live with our three young children in a 2 BR ~1200 sq ft. unit in downtown Atlanta--definitely against the grain. It's the typical American apartment layout, a poor and awkward imitation of a house; front door that opens into an "open plan" consolidated living room and kitchen environment, and two bedrooms where "private life" is said to take place.

What would make far more sense to me would be to take that same 1200 sq ft. and dump the second bathroom and the unnecessarily large walk-in closet in the master bedroom. That would certainly provide for a third--if small--room that could be used as a study, which would literally make all the difference for allowing me to get at least some work done at home. And we don't need a giant "TV room"; what we need are walls, noooks and crannies. It's wasteful and pointless; it leaves us with two bedrooms that are really only good for sleeping, and one common area in which all five of us have to coexist much of the time. Might as well just get a large studio at that point.

As I see it, much of the problem with "open plan" offices carries over into "open plan" floor plans. I don't understand Americans' obsession with and preference for this design. It's perfectly possible for families to live comfortably in a central urban place with relatively little square footage--if it were designed more sensibly and with some of the virtues that otherwise can be found only in a freestanding house.


I couldn't agree more. I think a large part of the problem is the application of trends which make sense in large houses (and houses tend to be pretty big in much of the US) to smaller spaces. I grew up in a big house in flyover country and it had a "open concept" with a huge combined living room/kitchen/dining room. But that house also had a study and a "family room" on the first floor, and 5 bedrooms on the second, so everyone had plenty of private space. My current much smaller house in California is basically a shrunken version of the open concept. But it lacks the family room and study, and only has 3 bedrooms. Despite having ~ 1400 square feet, it feels cramped with only 2 adults and 1 child living in it.


I think that explains some of the charm of the old Victorian/Edwardian era flats in many U.S. cities. If unmolested by "renovation," they'll have the original floor plans, which are much like you describe. They're great for sharing with roommates, especially if they have the split bathroom (toilet in one room, bathtub in another).


The problem with your idea is the part about eliminating the bathroom. For a household with that many people, having a single bathroom is really a big PITA. As soon as one person is taking a shower, that means everyone else has to wait 15-30 minutes for them to finish before they can use the toilet. It's even worse for guests. Bathrooms don't have to take up that much room; you can stick them in a space about the size of two old-style telephone booths, for a simple half-bath meant for guest and emergency usage only. These days, no one wants to buy a house with a single bathroom for these reasons, and in older houses people will even turn a closet into a second bathroom.

The idea behind "open plan" spaces is to make it seem more roomy by combining rooms and not having so many walls. People are both larger and taller than they used to be, so tiny houses can seem claustrophobic. Combining your living areas (living room, dining room, kitchen) into a single space actually makes sense here. Americans don't even use formal dining rooms any more, so it's a waste of space to have them, so now they're either eliminated altogether or made part of the living room or kitchen (the so-called "eat-in kitchen").

Now, as for Americans' "obsession" with open plan, this does not apply to offices; the dynamics behind house design and office design are completely unrelated. For houses, it's because people want a more spacious feeling, like I said above. For offices, it's because corporations are cheap bastards who want to save money on office space for their office drones, so they've made up a bunch of nice-sounding BS about "collaboration", when the real motivation is to greatly shrink the amount of square footage per desk because the open-plan concept lets you shove more desks together more closely, and commercial real estate is expensive. There's also a certain amount of managers liking to be able to see what their employees are doing. In reality, open-plan offices absolutely kill productivity for workers who need to concentrate on their work, such as software developers.


In Germany and Austria a lot of the housing stock is old and resembles what you describe, but many built in the last decades of the 20th century or later follow american-like floor plans.


Deriving that the suburbs (or anywhere) are "unpleasant" from such little information is illogical and presumptuous.

Although it's just as anecdotally short-sighted as your conclusion, I have found that it is not where you are, but who you are with that majoritively affects your emotional perspective.

Edit: I have lived in the "woods" my entire life, so I have no dog in this fight. Do we seriously support shitty logic like the OP mentions? Anecdatae is not data.


> : I have lived in the "woods" my entire life, so I have no dog in this fight. Do we seriously support shitty logic like the OP mentions? Anecdatae is not data.

If you've lived in the woods, you have no anecdata to support your conclusion either. However, there have been a raft of papers and other material related to governance in the past 15 years that describe the benefits of urban living and how to make it better. Further, the historical reality is that seeing Nature as better in the West is a strictly post-1800 phenomenon, being based out of the Romantic philosophical movement ( http://www.williamcronon.net/writing/Trouble_with_Wilderness... ). Historically, nature was untamed; the proper place for man was in the cities.

Look: we have n billion people on this planet. Do you want them all up in the woods, paving it over, adding gas stations, walmarts, and so forth - polluting it with french fries, used condoms, and the detrius of modern society? Or would it be better for us to build a sustainable world only in the cities, and leave the woods to go walking in for refreshment and experience? I choose the second.


> I choose the second.

Bully for you. But not everyone wants to live in cities. If you want to, fine. Personally, I'm no fan of suburbs and prefer either a Tier 1 city or the country (or at least exurbs).


I can certainly appreciate that. It seems to me that American suburbia as such has none of the virtues of either a first-rate city or of can-see-the-stars roll-in-the-hay countryside, but the downsides of both. It's a worst-practical antipattern.


Did you miss the part where I acknowledged that relying on my anecdatae was as fallacious as your conclusion that "the suburbs are unpleasant"?

Our limited data set is not enough to make any useful conclusions. My only gripe is making decisions with obviously shitty data.

Blanket statements are ignorant. Stop being so absolutist.


I grew up in an 1,100 square foot house with a four person family. My downtown Baltimore apartment is larger.


OT: /waves from Patterson Park


Not to mention that states all over the country have been raising their driving ages, reducing the number of eligible drivers. Here in New York you can no longer get a license until you're 17 years old if you've taken driver's ed, else it's age 18. Not surprising, then, that the percentage of drivers under 17 has declined.

Article makes no mention of that fact and I wasn't able to locate the paper with a cursory look.


As someone who grew up in NYS but hasn't lived there in a while, that's a huge change; it used to be there was a special driver's ed that would let you drive between 9pm-9am, or somesuch (assuming it was not to/from school or a job) when 17, but back when I went through that process you could get at least that partial license at 16.


For us it was the "provisional license" prior to 18.

That said, in my house it didn't matter. Dad was old school and according to him, me getting a license would make his car insurance go up (which I would have to cover) but I wouldn't be allowed to drive his car because he depended on it to get to work and couldn't risk his punk-ass son messing it up.


This was us. I had never owned a car, had let my license lapse.

As a childless couple, my wife and I used public transport to visit friends, shopped by bike, use a car share service (zipcar here in Melbourne, Australia) to visit relatives occasionally and for weekend trips.

With child one, I got my license again, and we used the car share service more often, as we planned compound trips where we went to see friends, made a supermarket trip with the car, all with the child, which would have been too time consuming without a car.

Once child two arrived, schlepping two car seats to and from the car share parking spot became too much. Also, child one started having things to go to (swimming, playdates). So we bit the bullet and bought a car.

I plan to go carless again as soon as we don't need a children mover. My wife is not so sure. By then, self-driving cars might make our decision easier.


Insurance is also a huge issue for under 25s. At least in Ontario, insurance and gas is close to what it costs to rent a room in a house.

http://www.theglobeandmail.com/globe-drive/adventure/trends/...

The problem for the car industry is that once you get older you're used to getting by without a car.


I think the reasable goal for a nuclear family with small children in a mixed-transportation future is a single car household. I'm trying to get down to one car with three small children. I live in walking distance to their school, I bike to work, and my wife takes the minivan to drop the youngest to her sitter and go to her job. On weekends I take the van to take the kids to their programs while I hit the gym and then we all go shopping. My oldest sits nicely on the bus when we do that, so it's promising.


You can read the full article by clicking the "web" link under the title.


I wish the HN community did not allow paywall content.


When I posted the site, I checked if it was readable. Clicking on the link, I still get a readable article. Is there a limit on WSJ articles you can read, is it geo-blocked?


IIRC, it's limited by number of articles. I think that number is somewhere around ten.


thx @RussianCow, so it's a client issue.


Driving was symbolic of freedom, getting away from supervision, so much that it became a rite of passage and every teenager wanted to be able to take a date out in a car. There were open roads, vast spaces to see, many low tech things to discover and to show someone else.

Now with traffic congestion in addition to rising costs of ownership, insurance, etc. and many other options for taking dates out, access to cars isn't vital, what's more, it's no longer symbolic of freedom but rather symbolic of the establishment, consumerism, suburbia and oil, things out of vogue. And now there are other more modern avenues for exploration, entertainment and finding kindred spirits.

To add one more thing, now access to cars does not require ownership. You have car-sharing services [citycarshare, zipcar] and you have ride-sharing platforms which make access to vehicles less of a binary choice of ownership/no ownership.


It's still a thing these days. For years I was pressured into getting a driving permit but hated the roads so delayed it. Just got it, it was exciting for a month (mastering the physics of the vehicle mostly), now I'm free to .. get food at the mall [2]. I tell this to people, and they're "NOoooo you're independent, you can do anything" with shiny eyes.

[1] angry drivers, jam, not green, enjoyed walking, running, biking..

[2] also it's incredibly stressful to me. I'm constantly checking everything (and that doesn't even save from bumping into cars because I can't scan 360deg in parallel).


Then take a few days off and go do something!

Draw a 500 mile circle around your current location. You can travel there and back in a day of drive time and less than $100.


When I read about people not wanting to get a driver's license, my mind boggles. It's not about owning a car. For me, that's primarily a decision about economics and the advantages of having a personalized space. It's not about my routine day-to-day travel requirements although I do indeed require a car for that.

Rather, it's about experiences going into the mountains/deserts/forests that require driving. Sure, I could wait for opportunities when I can piggyback on someone else but who wants to have that sort of dependency?


I don't pilot the planes I fly on - and I extend that exact logic to cars/trains/ferries/boats and ALL other transportation. This applies especially planes and domesticated transportation like camels and elephants. I've haven't had the need to ride a llama/alpaca (yet), but it would apply to them as well if the situation came up. Bicycles, 1-man canoes, and horses are really my only exceptions for obvious reasons.

You really can't take your car heliskiing. And you still need a bush pilot in most of the semi-remote world to get around.


I take your point but, for most people, there's a lot of ground between hiring a helicopter to go heliskiing and being dependent on whatever public transportation happens to be available. Clearly we have different lifestyles. Even leaving aside that I couldn't easily work at my current job without a car, I'd have to give up a significant subset of my recreational and travel activities.


Have you ever driven through a US national park? If not, I highly recommend it to understand where the comment you replied to is coming from.


I have never been to US national park, but I've visited some in Eastern Europe and Scotland. I can't imagine myself traveling over 4 thousand miles by any other transportation (trains, buses, bicycles, walking) within given timeframe, budget and convenience. Now this is the "old world", where you travel 500 miles and find yourself in an another country; I can only imagine what traveling in the US feels like. Maybe, one day, I will know - one can always hope...


It also used to be about retaining mobility once you get old.

When you can't run around outside for more than a few minutes and can't ride a bike any more, a car becomes you sole connection to the physical world.

Today, I'd say it is more of a bet: "How certain am I that the 100% self-driving car revolution (as in: needs no license) will reach the place I live in before I get old?"


> also it's incredibly stressful to me. I'm constantly checking everything (and that doesn't even save from bumping into cars because I can't scan 360deg in parallel).

This goes away after a while. Studies have shown that new drivers try to focus on everything, while experienced drivers only focus on key points.

As a result, experienced drivers get in less accidents.

Basically you get a sixth sense for driving. But you need a big corpus of data for that.


Indeed, In a few months you see how your brain optimizes information seeking and synchronization. Now a quick glance n mirrors is enough to know presence and distance. Before that I'd have to look at the thing like painting. I don't trust my 6th sense though, I often drop too fast too deep in the confident state.


Maybe so, but there's still the stress of being in rush hour, gridlocked traffic. That's never gone away for me, which is why I'm thankful not to have a commute that requires it.


Not having a car used to mean you couldn't see your friends, and couldn't do the things you wanted to when you wanted to. Finally getting a car basically opened up life.*

Now with the internet in your pocket, you can socialize and experience new things at your convenience from wherever.

(* = USA-centric. The country is huge and tends not to have good public transport except a few of the densest urban pockets. Even our big cities are massively inconvenient without a vehicle of your own.)


The internet really isn't life. I think a combination of increased car ownership costs, car-sharing services, increased population living in denser areas, and ridesharing has helped.


Around 2008 my sister got her 15 year old son a iPhone. Texting was such a problem with him that he was presented with a choice. Get a license and a car and give up his phone or keep the phone and keep using his bus pass. He went with the bus pass and only got his license last year and that was only because he wanted a motorcycle.


This article was really eye opening for me http://www.mrmoneymustache.com/2011/10/06/the-true-cost-of-c... . I just started my first post college job and I made sure to move within biking distance of my work.


That blog has a ton of good stuff on it, even if plenty of it will sound strange to new readers at first. I'm not on board with some of his psychological trickery (namecalling people that don't follow his belief system for instance) but that doesn't change the fact that if you're young and making good money that this blog pretty much guarantees you're going to be set by the time you reach your forties if not sooner.

Highly recommended.


Jacques, what's your impression of where he puts his wealth (stock exchange).

I'm in Ireland, and ETF index fund gains are taxed at ~40% each seven years, outside of your retirement fund. It seems like other avenues are more viable here in Ireland for wealth building before your retirement years, like running a business or maybe property ownership.


The advice given is very US centric, you'd do well to research your specific options and figure out what is best for you rather than to adopt his strategies without modification, it is more about the principle than about the letter of what's written there.

In NL we have (with respect to any kind of capital gains on private holdings) an incredibly fortuitous situation (no tax paid at all beyond a 1% per annum fictuous income, so that 1% of the value of your holdings gets added to your income which is then taxed at the normal rate).

In Ireland the index fund route may not be an option, but there may be other alternatives (such as direct real estate investments) that have a similar risk/return ration but a better tax picture. Your best advisor with stuff like this would be a local tax attorney.


Thank you for the actionable advice.


"Peak driving" was back in 2004.[1]

[1] http://www.theatlantic.com/business/archive/2013/11/crash-th...

“The broad acre city, where every family will have at least an acre of land, is the inevitable municipality of the future . . . We live now in cities of the past, slaves of the machine and of traditional building. We cannot solve our living and transportation problems by burrowing under or climbing over, and why should we? We will spread out, and in so doing will transform our human habitation sites into those allowing beauty of design and landscaping, sanitation and fresh air, privacy and playgrounds, and a plot whereon to raise things.” -- Frank Lloyd Wright


your linked article says at the end:

"But it would also be silly to suggest the economy didn't play a role. Gas prices began their dizzying rise early in the decade, which discouraged driving. Real estate cooled off in 2006, which discouraged spending on expensive items like cars. It's not as if everything was peachy until the day Lehman imploded.

That's why it's very hard to look at these charts and discern anything about the future. The degree to which Americans have taken their foot off the gas pedal in just a few years is pretty remarkable. "


Why I don't like driving:

1) We are preyed on by police as a source of revenue via traffic tickets.

2) Parking is increasingly becoming more and more difficult.


Tickets aren't a huge concern for me living in a state that has fairly strong anti-speedtrapping laws, but the absolute thing that has pushed me to driving less on a daily basis are other drivers.

I drive a low slung sports car, so it's clearly not the act of driving itself that I hate: it's dealing with nearly being hit by inattentive drivers that are more focused on their cell phones than the road on a regular basis. It's people riding at 30 MPH the entire length of an onramp and then being surprised they can't merge with traffic traveling at 70+. It's the fact that the two mile commute to my office that takes five minutes most hours of the day will turn into a fifteen to twenty minute commute at peak hours.

It's a lot of stress and unnecessary risk when there are better things I could be doing with my time.

I love driving when it's hopping in the car and going to carve up some mountain back roads. I loathe it when it's standing between me and just getting daily living done.


Parking is massively subsidized in the United States (read 750 pages about it! http://www.amazon.com/High-Cost-Parking-Updated-Edition/dp/1...) and drivers only get tickets because they habitually violate tons of laws (I've never gotten a ticket in my 12 years of licensure).


> drivers only get tickets because they habitually violate tons of laws

This is hyperbole at best. Speed traps are real. Driving while black is real in many places

If you said: Most tickets are issued to drivers that habitually break laws, that would be defensible.


I've gotten one. One was enough. At this point, I accelerate up to the speed limit and stick the car into cruise control unless forced to change my speed. Haven't gotten a ticket since.


Where do you live? In the NY metro area, once you leave the city itself, generally the speed limit is the absolute slowest speed you can travel safely before traffic will overwhelm you. In a 65MPH zone, 75-80MPH is generally the speed of travel; anyone traveling slower than that may become a hazard as drivers change lanes to pass them.


Just outside Portland.

Generally, I sit in the right lane and cruise along. I don't sit in the passing lane, and I keep my distance from other cars (which is easy, because they're usually going faster than me). If I can, I sit 200 yards behind a tractor trailer and cruise at their speed. I'm in no hurry.

On residential roads, I give zero fucks about who's behind me. I'm going the speed limit, so they are too. They won't be paying my speeding ticket, so I couldn't care less.

I do know that this strategy can be unsafe, though - when I was in the Marine Corps, I had to drive into San Diego to pick up Marines from Balboa in a government van. It had a GPS that would go off if you went above the speed limit at any point, meaning that your command would get a nastygram if you went 2 miles an hour over the speed limit. I went 5 miles under the speed limit at all points, and it was hilariously unsafe. People were mad.

Yet again, though, they weren't going to pay the half salary and reduced rank that I would've gotten from getting busted down, and they definitely wouldn't have been doing restriction time with me. So fuck 'em.


Over the last 20 years I've driven about 300k miles and have gotten precisely 1 (one) ticket, which I totally deserved.


If you're insinuating that following the speed limit and maintaining your vehicle are enough to prevent police harassment, I've got some reading material for you.


I'm also white, which helps.


Agree. I feel like the cost of Ubers need to go down a bit further to make cars go for good. Stuff like grocery shopping, quick errands, etc would add up quickly with $10 for each trip (considering the minimum $5 fare, let alone higher costs)


If you consider the cost of a car loan, insurance, gas and car maintenance your car might not look as cheap anymore.

As a personal anecdote I now only drive once every two weeks here in SF, mostly for weekend trips, and my car is such an expensive luxury that if I didn't already own it from the days I drove more I would probably just always zipcar or use Uber.


Yes, if only serfs weren't so expensive.


Self driving serfs are around the corner. It's not slavery if it's not human, right?


Well, if the prevailing anti-progress narrative is to be believed and expanded to even higher cliche-levels: Yes, it is slavery because only the rich will own the self-driving serfs and the slaves will have to pay for it anyways.


Self driving cars will make a big splash in the car for hire industry first. Then it just leads to cheaper taxis, uber so and deliveries.


What will they call that variety of Uber?

UberAuto?

UberMatic?

UberBot?


Great business idea -- Perhaps we could have refugees drive us around for a beer and Taco Bell gift cards!


I don't see driving going away for me any time soon, for the following reasons:

1. I live 50 miles from work and 10 miles from my nearest close friend.

2. House is within bicycling distance to a single train station, but the train doesn't go anywhere useful. You basically need auto transportation once you get off it, which makes it pointless.

3. Kid who will be in school soon, and is too far from the nearest elementary school to walk.

4. Hobbies (e.g. wood working) that often require me to haul large heavy items from stores miles away.

5. Generally we like to go out and do stuff. Whether it's across town or across the state, there's really only one option: You have to drive.

People don't realize how big the USA is, and how far things are apart. Unless you're in a dense urban environment ($$$) you're kind of stuck needing to drive.


1. You could gain a few hours a day of leisure with an autonomous car. 2. Sounds like you won't use that train in this scenario. 3. I am sure someone will figure out safe autonomous kids->school delivery. 4. Perfect case for hitting the 'large truck' button in an app. Or more likely, stores will have delivery well sorted out. 5. Longer term rentals seem like another thing that will get easily sorted out.

You might always need longer distance transit, but it seems unlikely you will continue needing to drive.


Once the cost of a car (amortized over 10 years) + gas + maintenance + insurance > the cost to rent a car for all of my driving needs, I'm ditching the car. But it isn't anywhere close yet (and I have records for myself for 20 years).


I agree. We just drove up to Oakland from Santa Barbara for the weekend where the only other options of getting there are train, plane, and possibly bus (never looked into it).

I'd love to take the train because I love being a passenger and think they are fun, but it is significantly more expensive with multiple people and it takes 8 hours where driving takes about 5. Plus once we get there, it is nice to have a way to get around.


Good!!! You have embraced a self-reinforcing lifestyle, but it is a conscious decision you have made, probably because it's what makes you happy/sane. When you have the $$$ to live in a dense urban environment things like cars become a major annoyance, and the ~$1000/mo for parking and insurance is really just a terribly inefficient use of capital, nothing more.

Corollary:

USA'ians don't realize how big the world is, and how just how closely things are interconnected. No matter your location, if you are poor, all transportation is a significant drain on your income.


Yeah, but a 50 mi commute is ($$$) too, in wear/tear as well as fuel.


In many cases, you save much more on rent because you're not spending $1700 a month to live in a shoebox.

What's really costly is time. That 50 miles in traffic is an hour and a half, so you end up spending 3 hours in traffic every day. This turns your 8-hour workday into an 11-hour workday.


The next 20 years will be quite interesting to say the least. Electric cars + autonomous Cars + Uber = no need for people to own cars but pay a small fee. People will start to reason about this ... "Why own a car that does nothing all day why i can just lease one"

I think things will go one of 2 ways:

1) people will lease their cars to other while they don't need them while at work and at home at night

2) people will lease cars from uber/tesla/apple/google..whoever

And we will use those services for a lot less than what we are currently paying for a cab, and certainly a lot less than what would be the cost of owning the car.


1) Is there really a demand to lease out cars during the off hours? With personally rented cars, who is in charge of cleaning it up, or determining if the vehicle is sufficiently clean, or figuring out who did any damage?

Or that the car is sufficiently maintained, the spare tire has air, etc.?

2) Will I be able to rent the car with baby seats (three seats please, for the triplets), ski racks, bike racks, etc. and how much extra will that cost? Will I have to load/unload the diapers, gym equipment, toolbox, sand for extra traction, first aid kit, etc. after each trip?

And yes, I have kept sand in the back of my car, and used it during icy conditions to get out of a friend's driveway.


Sounds like you are in the late majority.

http://a5.files.readwrite.com/image/upload/c_fit,cs_srgb,dpr...

Maintenance becomes easier, not harder, with a car sharing service. You would have winter tires instead of worrying about having some sand in your trunk. Also likely would have 4WD, with electric it works quite well. Of course you would have a first aid kit, toolkbox, spare tire, etc. Diapers and baby seats are a hassle for about 5 years per adult, so I am sure there would be a solution available.


Or you're in the "techie: try it". Since this technology doesn't really exist yet and nearly everything about it is pure prediction.

Your "of course" isn't really true, is it? I mean, rental cars don't come with a toolbox or first aid kit. To be fair, the toolbox was because I had a crappy car and needed to be able to fix it. A car rental service would include maintenance, but that extra work, and cycling out the cars more often, would probably be more expensive than having my own car, no?

(BTW, the "spare tire" was in the #1 category, under "people will lease their cars to other while they don't need them", not the #2 category of "people will lease cars".)

I feel like you handwaved the 'there would be a solution available' by considering and dismissing only one point, and not seeing it as an example of a larger set of problems.

Where is the ski rack? The gun rack? The bike rack? The dog crate? The trailer hitch? The tinted windows? Choice of color? After-market satellite radio - or CB? Car underlighting? The special sound system? Fog lamps? "Baby on Board" decals? Wheelchair lifts, lowered floor, or scooter hoist for those with handicaps? Phone or laptop charger?

Skiing friends of mine would leave their gear (boots, skis, packs, masks, gloves, poles, etc. plus duct tape and tools to fix minor problems) in the back of their SUV so they could take off for the mountains during snow season. It's a hassle to lug all that equipment in and out for each trip, and you might easily forget something. My mother leaves a sewing machine (one of five) and other sewing gear in her trunk to make it easier to go to quilting events.

> You would have winter tires

Perhaps. It's hard to say. I lived in Santa Fe, and in the city didn't need snow tires. My friends lived in the country, at higher elevation, on the end of a long dirt driveway. New Mexico has a lot of dirt roads, so it's best to be prepared. Even if the cars in Santa Fe had their tires swapped out, what about the cars of day-trippers from Albuquerque? Or those in Sacramento who decide to go to Tahoe?

As I only needed the sand once, it seems like an expense to swap out the tires each year for something that isn't essential. How much will that add to the cost?


You don't need sand for traction in any decent modern vehicle. They invented this thing called "front-wheel drive" decades ago. Even better, now they have traction control in all cars, and some cars have all-wheel drive.

Only RWD pickup trucks benefit from that strategy, and there's never any reason you should be renting one of those unless you have 1000 lbs of stuff to haul.


I had a front-wheel drive. Do you consider a '95 Integra to be sufficiently decent and modern? It's of course now 20 years old.

The front end of the car slide off the driveway into a ditch full of snow. There wasn't enough traction to back up and out. I don't see how a 2015 car would do any better.

Just last December I was in an ice storm. The day afterwards there was a quarter inch of ice on the road which made everything slippery. A car slipped off the crown of the road in front of the house, and over the curb. (No, not everyone can take the extra time off and stay home until the local streets are all clear.) Sand adds that extra little traction that would help a car, even an AWD car, get up the driveway slope.

In some snowy areas, the municipality or county even put containers of sand on the side of particularly steep slopes to motorists with slick roads, like http://www.geograph.org.uk/photo/4358579 . I don't think that it's only RWD cars which need that extra help.


No, a '95 is not modern at all. It doesn't even have traction control, which probably would have gotten you out of that ditch. It gives you the same effect as a limited-slip differential, to an extent, by applying the brake on the spinning wheel so power is redirected to the other wheel. It makes a huge difference when starting from a standstill on slippery surfaces.


I will take your word on that. My other comments about the thing that people regularly keep in their car still holds.


I think leasing will be more suited for those who infrequently need cars (e.g. If you live in a major city and bike, BART, etc) to work.


> With personally rented cars, who is in charge of cleaning it up, or determining if the vehicle is sufficiently clean, or figuring out who did any damage?

With Zipcar, they clean it about once a week, the user is responsible for reporting any damage, dirt, low fuel, etc when they pick up the car (not dissimilar from renting a car).


Zipcar owns the car, and decides the base level for the car. They keep the cars in good shape and had relatively strict rules on what you can do. Most cars on the road are in worse shape than most rental cars.

If I have a beat up clunker, with windshield damage, can I rent it out?

If so, does each person who rents it need to itemize all of the damage when they pick up the car?

I fixed the windshield, but the next person to rent it followed another car too closely on a gravel road and knocked a chip out of the windshield again. Do I take the person to court to resolve the issue, or do I work through the rental agency?

ZipCar prohibits smoking, and pets must be in carriers. But I smoke, and let my dogs on the back seat. (Okay, no I don't - this is hypothetical.) Can I still rent out the car? If so, do I need to indicate "may stink of smoke" and "not for those with dog allergies"?

Oh, and my father-in-law borrowed the car and smoked while in it. Do I need to change the setting for a few weeks to "it smells like cigarette smoke, but that doesn't mean you can smoke"?

It's much more complicated when there's no central authority who can require a core set of rules.


Not sure why this glorious future isn't happening today with microrentals startups like zipcar, peer to peer rentals like getaround/relayrides, ride hailing like uber/lyft, old-school car rental companies, and probably a bunch other business models I don't know about.


Even the manufacturers get this, which is where GM's Maven service is pointing to where the "casual" driver will probably end up. Assuming when they roll to SA they put pick up/drop offs in reasonable locations I can do my daily commute for half of what it costs me right now with having a car.


> The next 20 years will be quite interesting to say the least. Electric cars + autonomous Cars + Uber = no need for people to own cars but pay a small fee.

Yes, and Apple, with its Apple car, will have totally mis-predicted the market.


Been seeing this mentioned in connection with the reasons why self-driving cars & cars that are essentially 24/7 robot taxis will be a genuine thing.

Can't find the article I read recently on all this, sadly...


For me it's not so much about "allure" as it is economics. I live with my girlfriend and she has a modest car that she's paid off. We both work downtown and live about 3 miles from work. We mostly ride to work together so we only pay for one parking pass and use one car's worth of fuel.

When weather is nice I may ride my bike to work or ride the motorcycle I bought for shorter trips that don't require the car or highway driving. Either way, the bike cost maybe a third of what her car cost but neither of us is paying off a vehicle loan.

I've considered getting a second car. Something used and under $10k. Maybe even under $8k. Basically I think about it those handful of times it's not convenient to share the car and I need to pay $10 to take a cab/Uber or rent something once a year for a longer trip while she needs the car.

But I can never really justify it. As much as I'd like my own car, even a perfect balance (cheap/old enough to be affordable but no to much that maintenance makes up the difference) would cost way more than hiring or renting something for the times I'd use it.


What Americans once called Driving is no longer really possible. Due to rules, traffic, and social pressure, you simply cannot let loose and have fun in a car anymore. What Americans do now is called Commuting, and that, of course, has zero allure. For some reason, we still call it Driving, but that should change since Commuting is much more accurate.


Driving is amazing. I can travel further faster, making it easier to see friends. I can travel with more stuff making grocery shopping faster and easier. I can store things in my car which saves me worry and time. Driving can even be fun! I'd hate driving if I had to live in the middle of a dense city though.

Biking and walking are also amazing. It's healthy, and can be quite social. I can walk without having to worry about finding parking. I don't need to worry about keys, license, etc. It's simply impossible to walk/bike everywhere though in the majority of the country.


If you live in a city where everything you need is 1-2 blocks away and you have good public transport, Why would you need a car that sits idle 95% of the time? Just because you don't have to carry a bag ?


Because very, very few cities in the US have "good public transport", and even then they only have it in certain small areas. In NYC, public transit is pretty decent in Manhattan, and a part of Brooklyn, and that's it. Everywhere else it sucks: Bronx, Queens, Staten Island, the rest of Brooklyn, and everything on the NJ side (Jersey City, Newark, etc.).

What we need to do is build SkyTran.


It is so much nicer living outside a city compared to living in one.


That depends a lot on the city and situation.


If you live in a city, then you have far bigger problems. It's no way to live.


If you live in a suburb you have far bigger problems. It's no way to live.

(see, I can say the same low quality thing you did and replace city with suburb)

Living in a large city has many huge benefits. Density of people leads to diversity and density in entertainment and food. Density means that you will find large groups of people that engage in the same esoteric hobbies.


Walking is amazingly free of worries. I thought biking (in urban areas) would be the same but at higher speed, it's not. When you get above 25 you become dangerous and cannot be mindless. Also securing a bike is nearly impossible unless in protected parking lots or private homes. (I've read many reports of robbers "hacking" into buildings in case some people left their bikes unlocked or with subpar safety mechanism).

Maybe with a cheap bike tracker in the frame...


Folding kick scooters are a good compromise for urban commutes. You can take a fall on them if you push hard or take a steep slope, but they generally aren't going to go above 15 mph, so it's more like running everywhere and you can walk in everywhere carrying it.


I never managed to get into those, somehow I got stuck at the skateboard era. They do look very practical.


Having biked in urban environments for quite some time, I've found the solution is is to have a crappy bike and a bigger lock than the next bike over. Note that a crappy bike doesn't have to be a bad bike, just not something flashy.


Yeah the only way is to make the ROI impossibly low. I made the mistake of thinking my old bike was crappy enough (low brand 90s thing with a broken pedal) to use two cable locks. Wrong. I was greeted with a McDonalds paperbag and the remains of these poor cables. Fat chain or U-Lock are mandatory.


Couple thoughts coming from a late 80s baby raised in the burbs:

* Cars are a symbol of freedom. You don't have to ask mom or dad to drop you off at the movie theaters. You can actually do things after school with your friends rather than go straight home. You can blast music that expresses your counter cultural identity as loud as you want without anyone telling you to turn it down.

* Cars are an expression of identity. If you're about status, you rock the Benz. If you're about strength, you have the raised pickup truck. If you're about speed, you have the Civic with VTEC turbo, NOS, and the loud exhaust.

* Cars are fun. There is no better feeling than having your favorite music turned high, your windows down, and rapidly accelerating through traffic. The roar that you hear and feel from your car tops off the experience. I haven't been able to reproduce this rush on other vehicles like boats or bikes.


Interesting that all three of your examples involve anti-social behaviour. I have nothing against cars, but blasting loud music or a loud exhaust is a dick move.


Also a late 80s baby from the burbs:

* Cars are a shackle. I've seriously considered moving to within walking distance of the local train station, since I commute via train; even the slightly more expensive apartment would be greatly offset by the reduced need to fuel and maintain the car.

* One person's expression of identity is another's nuisance. I lived on a street where people with loud exhausts would accelerate so they maximize the noise. It'd be a loud distraction, cause traffic problems, and wake people up at night. Buses had less of a noise impact.

* Rapidly accelerating through traffic can be dangerous if other drivers aren't aware of you. Doubly so if you're weaving through traffic.


Hardly surprising. Where's the appeal of driving when you spend so much more of your time stuck in nose-to-tail traffic jams and breathing fumes? The "open road" is either hundreds of miles away or something you ask your parents about. Insurance is becoming unaffordable for youngsters. Fuel is near £5 a gallon.

People do most of their shopping online and the supermarket delivers, so there's no weekly need of the car like there once was. Twenty years ago you pretty much needed a car just for the weekly groceries. So one of the key motivators has gone. You're left transporting with toddler age children as one of the key motivators, so you can delay getting one until you're thinking about having a family. As we're having families later and later in life...

A car is simply no longer something as desirable as it once was.


Can understand this sentiment in younger people. As someone in his mid-40s, even living in New York City, I just picked up a car (after 8 years of not having one) and have been enjoying driving it so much. It's just something I grew up with and love to do as an activity.


I suppose it depends on the driving.

Earlier this morning I was cruising some empty county roads, windows down enjoying the (relatively) warm weather and sunshine, blasting some Chris Thile: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=z8I07VIxyQM.

If I was stuck in the stop & go city traffic where having my windows down meant getting a face full of exhaust, I'd hate it to.


I love driving, even when there's traffic. I have XM radio and this is really my only/easiest way of discovering new music so I see longer rides as a benefit. Get to just relax, listen to good tunes, and get some thoughts straight.

However, I can see driving as being an inconvenience to many due to things such as ticketing/insurance, parking issues, traffic for those that don't allot themselves enough time to commute, car maintenance, and the fact that our infrastructure is crumbling and nobody really enjoys diving into a pothole at 30+ mph. I know I'm associating owning a car with the enjoyment of driving a car, but I do believe they go hand in hand for many.


I'm 50, and an American. I've never owned a car. I can attest to the stigma of not traveling via personal motor vehicle, and the senseless barriers we've erected to getting through one's daily life by means other than car.

I'm cheered by these splashy blurbs, but I'm unconvinced they report a permanent trend: we still have a huge inventory of office park sprawl, strip mall wastelands, and residential "neighborhoods" with no sidewalks, with more being developed.


I keep seeing articles like this pop up here and there. My gut feeling tells me that someone is pushing an agenda. Even in NYC a car for me is really useful. I use it to take family to airport, pick them up from the airport, shopping at costco, lowes, homedepot, etc. A taxi cannot beat the convenience of owning one. But that is just my experience.

Could this just be Uber trying to convince us to use their service? Maybe this is one of those submarine articles pg mentions in one of his articles?



I think it's 3 things (I have teenagers about to get permits)

1) Parents don't let their kids drive or walk anywhere due to safety concerns (real or unfounded) So kids have built in chauffeurs and thus a lot less motivation to drive anywhere. 2) Uber 3) Work returning to city centers.

Teenagers have parents driving them everywhere. They use Uber at college and then get a job in a city. I guess they could take on the expense and headache of car ownership but there's very little upside.


When the WSJ says "more Americans" does it actually mean that, or does it mean "more people who live in the US and make at least $100,000 annually"?


They mean more Americans.

For example, New Jersey has a number of smaller cities (Newark, Paterson, Passaic, Trenton, Camden, etc) in close proximity to major metro areas (NYC, Philadelphia) that suffered debilitating white flight a generation ago. These cities are still economically depressed and are mostly inhabited by non-whites and tend to have lower incomes.

As much as the majority here seems to be extolling the virtues of urbanization, the real challenge are cities like this: what are currently barely-functional city cores that must be rehabilitated without substantially displacing current residents.


Relative to how it was in the 60's? (which predate me) I'm sure it has lost a great deal of its luster. The big car manufacturers were competing with each other to produce the biggest sleepers - cars with underrated horsepower both for competitive and insurance purposes - and they could be ordered from the dealer with very powerful engines.

In my hometown in the 60s and 70s you had kids simply circling the park for hours to see, be seen and show off their cars. You had drag racing up and down straight lines of road the kids had marked off at exactly 1/4 mile. TV shows featured cars as major plot points or even characters. Think Grandpa's Dragula in The Munsters, My Mother The Car and even into the 80's with Kitt and Knight Rider.

I think the modding and racing culture is still there, but it's moved on into pc building, make spaces and perhaps even open source contributions. There are other ways now to do something interesting and get your name out there than spinning a wrench. And gas prices and emission laws on the tail of the gas crises in the early 1970s certainly played its part in the death of car culture. Just my humble opinion of course.


> modding and racing culture is still there, but it's moved on into pc building, make spaces and perhaps even open source contributions.

I don't think so. Cars and computers/programming are completely different interests. I'm into both but the enjoyment of cars isn't really matched by anything else and I can't see it being replaced. Neither would any of my friends who are into cars. There's still a big thriving car culture out there, it's just moved upscale a bit due to the other things you described like rising costs and reduction in time and space.


I think it depends on where you grow up and what's valued in your area - but kids are very much influenced by their peers. There's still car culture - I wasn't arguing that there isn't - I was saying for your average high school kid in the little Texas town I'm talking about it doesn't have the same influence it once did. Of course I haven't surveyed the kids so I don't have anything beyond anecdotal data but I know the park is no longer encircled for hours by kids in cars every Sunday afternoon. Their interests lie elsewhere.


I think people who do OSS, and people who mod cars do it for very different reasons. The thrill of going fast and the thrill of solving a logic problem are very different.


Car ownership is becoming less fun. Recent cars are:

1. More difficult to repair.

2. More prone to breakage due to complexity

3. Less fun to drive. Good luck finding stick shift.

I'd hate to be high school student these days.


> 2. More prone to breakage due to complexity

I agree with a lot of the newer features, but it's a fact that old luxury features are now standard, (and more reliable than the old luxury features) and the regular features are more reliable than ever. Transmissions last longer, brakes last longer, engines last longer, tires last longer. Hell, tire technology has gotten so good that you actually have to do something to get a flat. It used to be that you just got flats every now and then. Not anymore.

Basically, if you want luxury features that will break at about the same rate as the luxury features on cars in the 80s, you can get them. If you want a really basic model car that doesn't have motorized doors and electrically controlled seats, you can get that, too.

And it'll get fantastic gas mileage, and it won't kill you in a car crash, either.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=joMK1WZjP7g


Mostly right, but,

> More prone to breakage due to complexity

Engines used to be good for 10 - 30k miles, now that's a service interval.


You are right, especially about #2.


If driving is losing its allure, then how are people getting around? The reason I wonder is that in some places like LA, public transit ridership is down, not up as you would expect. http://www.latimes.com/local/california/la-me-ridership-slum...


Uber, Lyft, and other ride-sharing services are one option. The other thing to look at would be unemployment numbers (a sudden spike in new unemployment claims or a trough in total unemployment enrollment could correlate to a drop in commuting).


Interest or lack of interest in regards to driving is primarily regional. This cities adore the car:

1. Austin 2. Los Angeles 3. Daytona Beach 4. Detroit 5. Portland 6. Phoenix 7. Snoqualmie 8. Atlanta 9. Los Vegas

https://www.yahoo.com/autos/bp/10-best-cities-automotive-ent...


Methinks the author is out of touch. Austin suffers from too many cars on too few, small roads, so the traffic is atrocious during work hours. Their population is exploding and the infrastructure cannot keep up. The parking situation is bad, unless you can afford to just throw money down the drain.

As a result, there's a large biking population, despite how dangerous it is biking on those crowded streets. There's a good attempt at bike lanes, but not good enough.


My wife and I live in Atlanta. We have three children (3, 4, and a newborn) and live in a 1200 sq. ft. 2 BR apartment downtown. We use our car maybe once a month, and mostly because our pediatrician's out in the suburbs. I won't deny that we're beneficiaries of Instacart, for as long as that's around, as there's no grocery store within reasonable walking distance.

We have no plans to move out of the city, though it would be nice if there were 3+ BR options for people like us that weren't insanely expensive penthouses or niche luxury units at $3200/mo+[1].

We're not representative of the mainstream Atlanta consensus, but we're not the only ones like this. There's a palpable revitalisation of downtown going on that has attracted lots of young professionals. I certainly expect it to stick and grow.

[1] Yes, I know that's the going rate for a rent-controlled 500 sq. ft. studio with leaking pipes in SF. Have the heart to make some provisions for Atlanta, where median rent is $1200 - $1400.


I don't think driving is losing its allure, I think people are making less and cars are getting more and more expensive.

$20k was the entry point for a decent car in the late 90s... Now it's north of $30k.

Renting rides from Uber is a suckers bet. There's a reason why poor people, business travelers and drunks are the only people who took taxis pre über.


> 20k was the entry point for a decent car in the late 90s... Now it's north of $30k.

You can get a brand new Honda Civic, Toyota Corolla, Mazda 3, or Chevy Cruze - with lots of very nice features - for 15k to 19k.


MSRP on a civic was under $10k in the 90s, and you could get a midsize sedan like a Camry or Accord for $15k.


That doesn't seem so bad though, right? Just looked up the MSRPs:

2016 Civic Sedan: $18,640 1996 Civic Sedan: $10,350

So average increase has been 3.0% per year over the period (CAGR). Inflation over the same period has been 2.2%, so it's a somewhat more expensive in constant dollars than it was 20 years ago (~$2500) but also comes with much better features.

There also are cheaper cars today than the Civic (i.e. 2016 Nissan Versa MSRP is $11,990, and you almost certainly negotiate down past MSRP).


2015 Nissan Micra, 2015 Chevy Spark, 2015 Mitsubishi Mirage are all under $10K as well. Safer and arguably better equipped than a '96 Civic.


Cars used to be fun. Car companies used to encourage the enthusiast culture. Enthusiast culture has changed to mostly rich kids showing off the Beamer their parents bought them. very few actually do their own work.

Nowadays, cars are more expensive. Insurance is mandatory. Owners are discouraged from doing their own maintenance. Commuting to work only gets worse over time. And, to add insult to injury, gas prices still suck despite oil prices being the lowest they have been in decades.

All of the things that made car ownership fun for young guys is discouraged by manufacturers because they've shifted their profit models to depend heavily on long-term service/maintenance.

If I move close to a city any time soon the first thing I plan to do is get rid of my car. at this point it's just an expensive burden.


I can understand people who live in cities not buying a car, but I know several people in their 30's who have not even learnt to drive.

I find this strange to understand. I'd put driving up there as a skill most people should know, like swimming.


Interestingly enough, dutch media for a few years have been reporting a similar trend among young people in The Netherlands.


Interesting to see that neither in the article or in the 166 comments discussing everyone's personal feelings toward driving, nobody even mentions the environment or climate change, the ethics of unnecessary burning of fossil fuels. In Europe this aspect would come up pretty quickly. A kind of taboo?


Credit is tighter and the economy is rough.

I envision automated lightweight safe single-passenger vehicles and something like a Hyperloop for long distance.

http://runvnc.github.io/tinyvillage/


I would never give up the autonomy that driving allows.

It might be cheaper for me to do some public transit + Uber or something (seriously doubt it where I love), but it'd have to be basically free for me to accept being dependent on others so much.


That's because more people are able to work from home, and cities have finally become more walkable, as more areas are built up. In the suburbs, driving is still big.


Money and congestion are to blame. The car still gives you incredible freedom and saves a lot of time.


And it is about time! This crazy fuel-consumerism is simply unsustainable.




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