Most american cities and towns remain very affordable. These cities have tons of vacant lots close to the downtown office areas and are degraded by all the car infrastructure that serves the wealthier suburbanites. In those places, a lot of people of low means actually live very centrally. There's room to contract there and provide ample living space for households of all incomes.
It is really a failure of the imagination. Most Americans cannot imagine a luxurious or aspirational life without a car. It has nothing to do with not having the means for it.
And, fwiw, it really does require somewhat of an imaginative leap.
When someone says that cars have bad consequences and there should be less driving, most objections are really reflexive. People imagine their current way of life, but without a car. A few examples:
- How will I take my kids to school? You won't, they'll walk, because you live close to school, and since there are fewer cars, it will be safe for them to do so.
- You expect me to lug all my costco bags on foot? No, you still can drive there, but you'll drive out as a special occasion once a week anyway. Or you pick up groceries in small batches from the grocery next to your office.
- You want me to wait for the bus that only comes once an hour? No, you'll live closer to your office and walk or bike there. Or you'll take a streetcar that stops one block from your house every 10 minutes.
- You want me to give up my huge front yard? Yes, but you won't need it, because you won't live next to a noisy and dangerous road. Instead, you'll have a small courtyard and it will look sick, with a lemon tree and a koi pond. And with all the money you save on gas, you can buy a little cabin out in the country and enjoy real nature there a few weekends a year.
The imaginative leap requires you to imagine, basically, town life, and most Americans no longer can because they have never experienced it. Some americans in some city neighborhoods or tourist traps enjoy it. It's usually expensive, but only because supply is constrained, not because it's innately costly. People who have lived abroad may have experienced it. Often they return to the US, and are offended by the sheer ugliness of it all. Many college students experience it, it's kind of nice huh, small college towns. Well, to americans that's not "the real world", just a holding pen for young people to squander their youth. But why couldn't it be "the real world"?
Make town living aspirational again, and half the battle is won. But that will only happen if people can imagine it. And that won't happen as long as people imagine `their` life `without` a car. They should imagine `somebody else's` life `with` a car.
And again, the rents in the coastal cities are an exception. Most cities and towns do not have any significant pressure on land prices. Town life is right there in front of us, for the cost of used tire lot and a White Castle, and people cannot see it. Because they'll object that there won't be any room for the drive-thru lane.
>People imagine their current way of life, but without a car
We imagine it because that's what's being proposed: public policy changes to discourage driving, without the attendant changes to remove our desire to drive.
San Francisco homeowners can easily get behind a proposal to make their streets safer, quieter, and prettier by removing all those South/East Bay outsiders and their cars.
They won't get behind a proposal to make their streets louder, in shadow, and full of undesirables by building high- or even mid-rise housing to let the commuters move in.
The movement to shut down driving has legs. The movement to densify doesn't. That's what scares me.
College towns are a great model. One interesting feature of many college towns is the preponderance of scooters and small motorcycles. I suspect these will be crucial (even if only as a transitional step) in densifying. Amazon Prime and the panoply of food delivery apps are also quite popular among students, helping to eliminate the shopping/errands use case for cars.
The thing is, even in the densest cities in the world it's not like people are completely without cars. They just manage to get by with one car per family rather than one car per driving age member of the household.
It has the additional advantage of letting their teenaged kids get around and do shit on their own without having their parents play chauffeur all day.
Between car sharing services, bike shares, and on-demand ride-hailing it's easier than ever to get around without a car and fill in the gaps that a transit system leaves. The only thing that actually gets hard is being able to drive out to go camping or manage the extemporaneous pick-up of free-shit on CraigsList. Even that would be doable if car rental companies were more focused on long term rentals for road-trippers rather than just people who need commuter econoboxes to leave their hotels.
60% of households in Paris do not have any car.
In its suburbs, and in other major but smaller cities in France, again 30% to 40% of households do not have any car.
That's a fair share of people who are completely without cars.
The weekend I want to go out of the city, I just go to the rent a car next to my house and I rent a hybrid car during 48 hours for about $150. If the place I want to go is really far, I take the bullet train and I rent a cheaper car there.
It's perfectly ok to live without car, it's just that the cities need to be designed in a different way.
1. At peak, I only spend $1800/year on gas. Even if that doubled or tripled, that's not enough to buy a cabin in the country - not by a long shot.
2. If I had a cabin in the woods, how would I get to/from it without a vehicle?
3. I don't want to enjoy "real nature" a few weekends a year. I want to enjoy it every day when I get home from work.
Owning and driving a vehicle is about freedom. Freedom to go where I want, when I want, with whom I want. Freedom always makes an exchange for risk (cost, crashing, health, etc) but I wouldn't exchange my freedom for any of those. If you would, that's fine, but don't tread on me.
What gives you the right to tell others what they need, what they should own, where and how they should live? I don't want a small, sick courtyard with a lemon tree and a koi pond. I want a yard where I can go outside and throw a ball around or play with my dog. I don't want to buy and maintain a cabin in the woods. Who are you to tell me that I can't or shouldn't have that?
It's virtually the same message from Andres Duany. His talk from 30 years ago is still so eerily precise and comprehensive: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=NMvwHDFVpCE. When I feel presumptuous, I email this to people (deaf ears, mostly). Leon Krier bangs the same drum, and adds a more sophisticated, architectural perspective: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=kFiYL8AvvnY.