How or Why Cars Erode Cities & Villages

Haverstraw in the 1940s

Haverstraw, 1940

Another way to understand the destructive nature of cars on downtowns is the psychology that cars create amongst ‘motorists’ or those that regularly use cars to get around. As Americans became more and more reliant on cars to live their daily lives, they unknowingly gravitated toward shopping centers that were most convenient for their vehicle. The closer these motorists could park to the entrance of the store, the better. Downtowns became “inconvenient” and therefore began to decline as places for commerce. This mentality is aided entirely by zoning requirements that force real estate developers to include a certain number of parking spots IN FRONT of their stores.

This basic zoning requirement eliminates the traditional function of retail: drawing shoppers off the sidewalk and into lively and attractive storefronts. So, the arterial road (Route 9W in this case) becomes the “sidewalk” and the only way to attract drivers to stores is by posting massive signs and providing plenty of convenient parking as near as possible to the “stores.” Enter the strip mall. The strip mall is the physical incarnation of suburban zoning laws. Everyone hates them, but they are required; anything other than a strip mall would be considered illegal. You can’t blame the developers; you have to blame your elected officials.

This is only an excerpt from an interesting argument. Read more at haverstrawlife.com.

Do I fully buy it? No, not really. I think there are a lot of benefits to cars in cities and villages, like access to greater distances and transportation of goods for a lay man without access to a larger cargo transporter. There’s potential to go to and do more. But the arguments here are all correctly thought out and proven time and time again. So, I would highlight in Jared’s thesis that cars absolutely erode cities, and that it’s largely in part to the decisions people make when they think of cars as the primary mode of transit. 

Anyone else want to weigh in?

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