Class, cars, and urban development

Posted: 10 September 2010 in Uncategorized
Tags: , , ,

The battle over cars, especially its class implications, is taking place in cities across the globe.

Right now, it’s taking place in Montreal—specifically, in the Plateau Mont-Royal borough. Luc Chartrand (in French) contends the plan to widen sidewalks, add bike paths, and close some streets to traffic is a form of class warfare: it’s “nothing but a strategy by the wealthy to grab territory in a centrally located district. . .to the detriment of the general interest of the City.”

Bianca Mugyenyi and Yves Engler counter that “making life difficult for cars could be, in fact, described as a form of class war, but one that works in the long-term interests of the poor and working class.”

The different ways in which the private car strengthened wealthy people’s grip over culture and mobility have largely been forgotten. At the same time, the immense financial burden cars place on the working class seems of only passing importance to its critics.

The largest source of capitalist profit over the past century, the automobile has shaped landscapes, culture and the environment in a host of harmful ways. It’s time for a class-focused challenge to private automobility.

The fact is, without appropriate public transportation, working people are forced to have the freedom to purchase and maintain private cars, to travel to work and to engage in after-work leisure. When private cars are the primary mode of transportation, they’re the hardest hit. Changing the capitalist urban landscape to promote ways of living, working, and getting around other than with private cars can only be to their benefit.

  1. Lori says:

    Still, to the extent that walkability, density etc. are making a comeback in North America (in the USA anyway) there’s a tendency for it to be in the trendy yuppie developments. The poor tend to get stuck with yesterday’s technology, whatever that happens to be at the time. While it may be counterintuitive to many Americans, it’s looking more and more like there will be a suburban underclass. Instead of waiting for the benefits of the trendy carfree neighborhoods to trickle down, we should be retrofitting downscale urban and suburban neighborhoods for mass transit, sane land use, etc., now.

    Needless to say, Big Oil is getting a lot of astroturf mileage out of the perception that fuel taxes are one form of poor tax.

    Those of us who don’t live in trendy walkable neighborhoods need a ticket out of the car now in the form of a free bus ticket.

  2. free transit says:

    The solution is a mass movement for free public transit. Fortunately for all, this movement is already underway. You will not read about it in the mainstream media.

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