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Spadina Literary Review  —  edition 3 page 11

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But that's not totally self-evident to Grescoe.

Grescoe hops onto one of the surface trains and off it goes plowing through a landscape of malls, parking lots, highways, detached houses, storage depots, the continuous sprawl that, let's face it, is the philosophy of Los Angeles County. There's not enough passengers on board this train, says Grescoe, and the reason is terribly obvious. Successful transit requires densely populated corridors, which L.A. is not offering up. L.A. has to change its form, and, realistically, what are the near-term prospects for that?

Image of Los Angeles County sprawl seen from train window
The train plowed thru L.A. County sprawl

A similarly bleak assessment emerges when with high hopes he heads up to Portland, capital of granola-land, and rides its low-slung MAX train out to the end of the line, trundling past miles of suburban formlessness till he ends up at Orenco Station, one of those neo-English-village-type developments which turns out to be just like any other burb in the sense that the residents tend to work and shop in all different directions so their transport of choice is the car. The commuter station is like a forlorn strip of blacktop rusting in the wind, and when Grescoe tries to return to the station after exploring the pseudo-village he complains that he has to traverse a parking lot — the sort of slight planners regularly dish out to pedestrians but it seems to cut Grescoe deeply.

Between you and me, the author is a bit touchy about social status markers, which explains why he remembers Margaret Thatcher’s numbskull remark that “a man who, beyond the age of 26, finds himself on a bus can count himself as a failure.”

The relatively compact cities in Japan and continental Europe are more to the author's liking.

Tokyo has suburbs, or beddo taun (bed towns), but they were built by railway companies doubling as developers so they snuggle close by the rail stations to support rail travel. Although Japan is a great car maker, domestically the private car never achieved the monstrous hegemony it has in North America. The Japanese always continued to advance their passenger rail technology, for example with their bullet train. Their trains are tops for speed, cleanliness, reliability, groping, you name it.

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