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  • Writer's picturePete Ward

The Travel Illusion

Our cars are a big part of our lives. In fact, it is difficult to imagine life without one. Without a car how would we get to work, bring home the groceries, get home to the suburbs, or the vacation house in the country? But have you ever imagined what life would be like had all the inginuity, resources, labor, and land been used for other purposes? What communities would have replaced the suburban model and what meeting places could replace the parking lots in the city? Have you ever concidered the value in the flora and fauna which existed in the places now occupied by roads, freeways, parking lots and parking structures? Was there adventure and connection to nature to be experienced under the 4.19 million miles of asphalt?

The automobil – long been a symbol of freedom – has in fact imprisoned us. The disorienting infrastructure in which we all find ourselves is not the result of a grand vision for humanity, but one of profit for the automotive and fossil fuel industries. Capitalizing on the deplorable urban landscapes and dirty factories at the dawn of the Industrial Revolution, they seized the moment to shape a world completely dependent on their products. This was the birth of the suburb, consequently leading to the the "great acceleration" and the normalizing of inefficient energy consumption and environmental and ecological disregard.

The suburb – designed around the concept of the nuclear family – did not take into conciderstion the full range of human needs. From a sociological and anthropological perspective, the extended family is considered the most common family structure in most cultures and at most times throughout history. Human development, dependent on multigenerational influence, was drastically altered by this artificial environment, with consequential effects to social and societal wellbeing.

But the automotive industry did not stop at getting people out of town, city design was also heavily influenced. They encentivised laws which require even the densest cities to reserve a great deal of street space to store private vehicles. Local laws across the country have been enforced which require house and apartment builders to provide off-street parking – regardless of whether residents need it. As the Slate staff writer Henry Grabar explains in his book, Paved Paradise: How Parking Explains the World: “More square footage is dedicated to parking each car than to housing each person.”

Real-estate prices in New York’s Greenwich Village, Boston’s South End, and many international vacation destinations are proof that people are perfectly happy in dense neighborhoods without cars and parking. Most of the urban areas in the U.S. are not walkable and 76% of Americans commute by car. The general consensus of studies done on driving a car is that they make people less happy and less healthy. People who drive are at greater risk of high blood pressure, diabetes, and obesity. They have decreased sleep, increased depression, increased feelings of being under pressure, and are more likely to divorce. Road rage has become synonymous with the driving experience.

The automobile has been the biggest benefactor of capitalism in human history and the greatest source of unethical practices. It is the direct cause of our housing crisis due to the infastructure created to support its use, an economy which requires excess wealth needed to aquire and maintain, and a level of inefficient use of resources and energy that has altered the global ecosystem in its entirety. According to the EPA, 29% of our country’s total planet-overheating air pollution comes from the transportation sector, with 58% of that total coming from light-duty vehicles, i.e., passenger cars.


  • Over 14 million new light trucks and automobiles were sold in the United States in 2020.

  • There were 39.3 million used light vehicles sold in the United States in 2020.

  • In 2020, Americans bought an approximate total of 14,471,800 million cars.

  • As of 2019, 91.3% of households report having access to at least one vehicle.

  • There were 286.9 million registered vehicles in the United States in 2020.

  • There are approximately 1.41 billion vehicles registered in the world.

  • As a whole, Americans spend $698 billion annually on the combination of automobile loans and insurance.

  • Over 77.6 million vehicles were produced globally in 2020. The US ranks only behind China in total vehicle production.

Off-street-parking mandates, it turns out, are easy to satisfy when suburban developers are building fast-food outlets, strip malls, and single-family homes on cheap open land; meanwhile, large downtown commercial and residential buildings can generate enough revenue to pay for expensive garages. But projects in between fall into what’s been described as the “Valley of High Parking Requirements”: The government-mandated number of spaces won’t fit on a standard surface lot, and structured parking would cost too much to build. This is how parking rules killed off the construction of rowhouses, triple-deckers, and other small apartment buildings. Grabar reports that in the past half century, the production of new buildings with two to four units dropped by more than 90 percent. Many housing experts believe that the waning supply of cheap market-rate apartments in small and midsize buildings is a major cause of the current housing crisis.

The dominance of the automotive infrastructure causes pollution, aggravates flooding, and absorbes heat from the summer sun. The ADU (Additional Dwelling Unit) movement epitomizes the underlying problem of local regulations blocking apartments while allowing parking structures. The fact that cities are now permitting ADU's, many of which are being built in garages in the suberbs, is an amendment to the consequential social problems caused by prioritizing the automobil above the needs of humanity.

As for the move toward electrifying our infrastructure – as it has come to be – there is no greater dillusion than the belief that electric cars are the solution to continue business as usual and avert an ecological and geopolitical catastrophe. It is time to recognize that the wars fought for the minerals to build our cars and fuel to run them has in no way contributed to building a better society and has greatly diminished our natural environment. We must admit that our entire infrastructure has been a lie built on the false pretense created by the biggest players in the game of capitalism. We have become reliant upon the personal automobil because we have yet to create environments which do not require their use for our daily activities.

The Propolis objective is to present an alternative long denied by the automotive and fossil fuel industries.


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