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Spadina Literary Review  —  edition 2 page 12

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Of course, it's a fallacy to blame automobiles. One means to blame automobilists, who cling to their cursed chariots despite the expense, gridlock, highway mayhem, and constant quests for parking. To be sure, the car exercises a mesmerism on us — the car as trophy, raiment, armour, rocket, and theoretical liberty to split for the coast at any moment. For many people the car has also become practical necessity. With workplace here, home there, shops elsewhere, "we can no longer conform our individual paths of travel to the fixed lines of mass transit." As cars shaped the city, says Safdie, the city is now shaped to require cars.

There are over 6 billion humans on this planet, and more coming. Megacities spread everywhere, devouring field and dale, farm and village. Tokyo leads with 27 million people. Mexico City is catching up. Their sprawl zones can stretch 100 kilometers. Congested, polluted, they are ecological basket cases. Safdie sees his moral duty as to salvage something of the traditional human-scale city. Architects must "intervene in search of a more humane, spiritually uplifting and unoppressive environment."

Problem is, how can we zap the private car so that vast-hearted architects can design edifying cities to preserve humanity through the approaching mega-madness?

Eureka! How about a time-shared publicly-owned electric "utility car" so people won't need their own cars? Call it a U-car, give it some pizazz. You come along, stick your plastic card in the starter slot and away you go. Dump the U-car at a depot where you arrive, let someone else take it. Because of sharing, fewer vehicles are needed. Your cost per kilometre is low. No worries about maintenance or parking. And since idle U-cars park in tight ranks like shopping carts — you just grab one off the head of the line — U-car depots demand far less parking space than private cars. Imagine! There could be Camry U-cars, Lamborghini U-cars. "Who has not fantasized about owning a whole fleet of different vehicles to indulge his or her daily moods?"

There are wrinkles to iron out. How does the system reconcile surplus U-cars downtown and shortages uptown? How do you summon a U-car to your door in the morning? Electronic guidance, maybe. What if it doesn't show up anyway? How much will all this really cost? Is this a plot to subsidize private mobility from the public purse? Finally, do people even want a shared car? Taxis and rental cars fulfill the U-car's functions today without threatening the dominance of the private car. But in a world short of space and resources Safdie contends we have little choice: it's U-car or no car.

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