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COMING TO TERMS WITH THE AUTOMOBILE

If one wanted to pick a single theme that defined much of urban design in the twentieth century, coming to terms with the automobile might be the best choice. Neotraditional planning is clearly planning for an automobile-owning population. It is an attempt to incorporate the automobile into the urban fabric while not letting the automobile destroy that fabric. The edge city and Frank Lloyd Wright's Broad Acre City both represent a total accommodation to the automobile, and neither would make any sense without the automobile. One could not live in either city without an automobile, and little remains of the traditional urban fabric in either one. Le Corbusier's Voisin plan, though it is radically different from Broad Acre City or the edge city, is also an accommodation to the automobile. Travel in it is by automobile. There is no continuous web of small streets and sidewalks, and the distances between the huge structures would discourage walking for purposes other than recreation. Paolo Soleri's megastructure comes to terms with the automobile in a very different way: it banishes the automobile entirely. Vertical travel is by elevator, and horizontal travel is on foot. It is largely meant as an alternative to the sprawling, automobile-begotten metropolitan area of the twentieth century. Even the Foster plan for Masdar takes the automobile into account in the sense of banishing and replacing it with something less intrusive and more environmentally benign, but which, like the automobile, provides individual self-scheduled mobility.

If one looks back to the neighborhood drawing on page 186, one sees that it, too, makes a particular accommodation to the automobile. Curvilinear internal streets permit automobile access to all parts of the neighborhood, while the larger streets on its edges carry longer-distance traffic around it rather than through it. In fact, though it antedates the neotraditional movement by at least half a century, it has a certain amount in common with neotraditionalism. Radburn, discussed in Chapter 3, is also an accommodation to the automobile. Like the neotraditionalists, the designers of Radburn acknowledged that automobile ownership and use would be nearly universal, but they sought to keep it in its place and to protect the fabric of the community from it.

The automobile is irresistibly attractive to most people. If there were ever a product that was essentially self-advertising, it is the automobile. It works well in low-density environments but poorly in high-density environments. It is an enormous space hog, both when in motion and when at rest. The automobile takes up as much square footage as a studio apartment just to park it. For all these reasons the automobile is not easily reconciled with the urban environment, and it is not surprising that accommodating urban life to it has been and remains a central issue in urban design.

 
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