The expression “car culture” has been widely used to describe the effects of the automobile on our individual and collective behavior. Initially a pronounced American phenomenon, car culture has spread around the world with surprisingly common effect. The automobile is, of course, more than a single moving object conveying a few people from one place to another. It is an extension of personality, a cherished possession, an art form. Advertisements in print and on television now seldom make allusion to the car as a means of transportation, emphasizing instead the appearance and agility of the car, its ability to give tangible expression to the desires of the driver. An ad for now obsolete Pontiac cars appearing in the March 2003 issue of Men’s Journal had the caption “Unleash your nasty little urges.” Personal freedom and self-fulfillment are the understood meaning of most

of the ads. Speeding carefree along a lonely road guarded by hills or racing before clouds of dust it has left behind across vast open space, machine and person are as one, joined in defiance of the natural and restrictive environment. Years ago, when the famous car designer Ettore Bugatti received a complaint about the brake system on one of his models, he forcefully replied that his cars were designed to go, not to stop. And so with contemporary advertisements, most of which show the car in unimpaired motion. Yet car culture is now an unsatisfactory combination of mobility and con-

straint, of “go” and “stop.” The automobile provides the maximum range of individual movement but also, because of its ubiquity, creates obstacles to that movement, the “bottlenecks” and “gridlock” that occur in and around every major city of the world. In Paris, for instance, there were an estimated 50,000 cars in 1939; by 1960 that number had leaped to 2,000,000. Within 18 years the number of cars in Moscow went from 60 per 1,000 residents to 350 per 1,000 in 2009. According to a recent article in The New Yorker, the increase presents an enormous traffic problem, causing hours-long traffic jam delays; a prominent Russian journalist documented the problem after

missing a flight that he was scheduled to board with Prime Minister Vladimir Putin (website “Letter from Moscow: Stuck. The meaning of the city’s traffic nightmare” 2012). The traffic in New York City moves at an average speed of five mph. The Robert Altman film Nashville (1975) took this problem of traffic congestion to its logical conclusion, when a minor accident on a major interstate leading from the airport to the city center brought traffic to a grinding halt. Frustration and anger were soon tempered by resignation, as drivers got out of their cars and engaged socially, thus forming a series of instantaneous communities of the oppressed sharing drink, food and off-the-road concerns. The problem of “road rage” gained the attention of psychologists and

journalists alike in the late twentieth century. In addressing an American congressional committee investigating the nature and significance of this rising phenomenon in 1997, Leon James, a social psychologist at the University of Hawaii, declared: “Automobiles are powerful, and obedient. They respond instantly and gratifyingly to our command, giving us a sense of well-being that comes with achieving control over one’s environment” (James, “Congressional testimony by Dr. Leon James on road rage and aggressive drivers”). Inhibition or frustration of this control leads to road rage, anger at the anonymous Other, the driver in another car whose slow or careless driving is seen as an impediment to on-the-road progress. Described as rage du route in France, the subject and its effects are inter-

national, with press commentary and institutional investigation adding to the degree of current concern. A report released at the beginning of the twentyfirst century by the Royal Automobile Association Foundation in Great Britain revealed that road rage was a significant phenomenon, a more exaggerated and harmful expression of the inconsiderate and bad driving that had long marked the motoring experience. As an example, the report quoted a newspaper article in which the director of the RAC Foundation stated: “We had a case of a vicar’s wife punching another female motorist for taking a parking place” (website “Roadrage” 2001: 3). The Foundation report also offered statistics, derived from the evaluations of 10,000 motorists in 16 European countries. In the United Kingdom 80 percent of drivers said that they had been “road raged,” 77 percent in Greece, 66 percent in Austria and 65 percent in Ireland. Not only personal behavior but urban form has been affected by the pre-

sence of the automobile. The most obvious problem has been spatial. The modern city, largely constructed before the automobile’s omnipresence, is constrained from the widening of roads and streets to accommodate the everincreasing flow of traffic. Elevated expressways (as in New York) and tunnels under major road intersections (as in Paris) have offered some relief. More drastic measures have been made to limit vehicular access to the city. Athens and Mexico City, for instance, have similar laws restricting cars to alternateday city parking, as determined by the last digits of license plate numbers. New York has forbidden single-occupant cars from entering lower

Manhattan. Many cities, Bologna, Munich, Copenhagen, among them, have declared pedestrian zones in which cars may not travel. Singapore (since 1975) and London (since 2003) have imposed special fees on drivers entering city congested zones. The Singapore program has been very successful, reducing in-city traffic by 30 percent. Cities as widely separated as San Francisco and Paris have established bicycle, roller skater and pedestrian streets where on Sundays and holidays automobile traffic is prohibited. Efforts to control automobile domination have also extended to street

redesign. The street, after all, has been the main conduit of communications and urban discourse throughout history. Although much of that earlier function has been replaced by modern telecommunications and transportation, the street as the most likely axis of community convergence is now being strongly defended and rehabilitated. In the Netherlands and in Germany, such devices as the widening of sidewalks, the adding of small islands of greenery in the street, the realignment of the street with twists and curves, have been employed to discourage – indeed, impede – fast vehicular movement and to make the automobile share the street with the pedestrian and with children at play. The now nearly universal speed controller is the speed bump or the rumble strip. “New architecture” proponents, particularly in the United States, see the

answer to auto culture in the creation of small-scale communities, with basic facilities for shopping, governmental services and entertainment in a small center within walking distance of clustered residences. These residences, in turn, would have front porches facing closely to the sidewalks and with garages and access roads in the rear, such that the street would again be a place for social convergence. In the United States the most cited and controversial urban planning

experiment is one that seems to “go back to the future.” Seaside, a planned community in Florida, is an attempt to reacquire the conditions of the small nineteenth-century American town, predating the advent of the automobile. Houses are clustered together, not separated by great swathes of lawn, porches are within easy hailing distance of the street, ostentatious structures with cathedral-high entranceways are disallowed, and public buildings are of inviting, not formidable form. A planned community of infrastructure and building codes, Seaside imposes no severe restrictions on architectural style. In its defense, one author has described it this way: “It is conservative, and it is democratic; it is élitist and it is populist; it is American” (Anderson 1991: 46). The recent effort to give this contrived environment more lasting effect was

realized in 1997 when the thoroughly engineered town of Celebration was opened, a short distance south of Disney World in Orlando, Florida. The official website for Celebration explains that it is “a place where memories of a lifetime are made; it’s more than a home; it’s a community rich with oldfashioned appeal and an eye on the future.” It is a place attempting to force a sense of community by its spatial arrangements, everything designed to

encourage pedestrian behavior. To achieve this, property is heavily regulated so as to prohibit any major changes in appearances. Being neighborly in appearance requires conformity, no serious deviation from the site plan or architectural design. To reverse the old modernist adage that form follows function, in the creation of urban space by the Disney Imagineers and the New Architects, function follows form: the structures are designed to induce a certain kind of behavior, one that is communal in thrust and strife-free. It is utopian and anti-democratic, harmonious and free of dissent or divergence – no place where a revolutionary tract would be written or a soap-box orator would speak. However, in 2010 the manufactured tranquility of the suburban never-never land was breached; over Thanksgiving weekend a 58-year-old resident was murdered and a week later another man in his fifties barricaded himself in his house and killed himself with a gunshot to the head. The latter incident brought SWAT teams and hovering helicopters to the town of sheltered residents, many of whom felt shielded from violence. Beth Guskay, of Lakeland, Florida, and a regular visitor to Celebration who was interviewed by The New York Times for a report on the crimes, offered a candid observation of the town: “I call it the ‘Stepford Wives’ community. As soon as you drive in it’s creepy. I think it’s for people who don’t think anything bad is ever going to happen to them” (website “A Killing (a First) in a Town Produced by Disney” 2012). The automobile has allowed – or forced – the reorganization of urban

activities. Parking garages have added to the city’s architecture and nowhere more dramatically than in Chicago where the twin Marina Towers, constructed in 1959, accommodate 450 apartments, with parking for 450 cars in the lower third of the building. In major cities like London and Los Angeles, between 40 and 60 percent of urban space is now allocated to the needs of the automobile: parking garages and off-street parking at commercial establishments, modern expressways cutting into the older urban fabric and often rising above it, and the in-car services provided by drive-ins, popularized by McDonald’s Speedy Service, initiated in 1957. By the early twenty-first century Speedy Service was introduced in Beijing, China, reflecting the country’s adoption of car culture. The automobile also engendered new architecture. Disproportionate to

earlier urban features and frequently uninspiring in architectural form, but pervasive in effect, is the shopping center, afloat worldwide on a sea of asphalt designed to accommodate the automobile-driven consumer. More visible as a roadside feature is the motel. The most famous motel chain, started in 1946 and now worldwide in its locations, is Holiday Inn. Named after the fictional hostelry in the 1942 movie Holiday Inn, the new chain guaranteed the same features in all of its motels, so that the automobile traveler knew exactly what he or she would find wherever the motel was located. “Gigantic. Spontaneous spectacle of automotive traffic,” so wrote

Baudrillard of the Los Angeles freeways. Further, they do not “denature the city or the landscape; they simply pass through it and unravel it.” And they

accommodate “the only profound pleasure, that of keeping on the move” (Baudrillard 1988: 53). Jack Kerouac had earlier described this condition in his novel, On the Road

(first published in 1957). As Dean Moriarty, sidekick of the narrator Sol Paradise, “hunched over the steering wheel and gunned the engine” of the Ford in which they are undertaking a cross-country trip, the narrator, Sol Paradise says of the travelers: “We were all delighted, we all realized we were leaving confusion and nonsense behind and performing a noble function: move. And we moved!” (Kerouac 2003: 134).