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Spadina Literary Review  —  edition 3 page 15


Times have changed. “Car culture has hit a wall,” says Grescoe. Suburbanites, rebelling against spending two, three, four hours a day commuting, are moving back downtown. Milwaukee, San Francisco, Baltimore and New Haven have all torn up sections of expressway. Car sales are slipping.

Does that signify a long-term trend? Myself, I would never underestimate the ego-stroking manipulations of the technology/marketing complex that will entrance people to keep buying cars. Consumer society as a whole has to be fixed, which is a huge job. What gets me is the typical escapist car ad shows a a car sweeping along a scenic road all by itself. And they never say who pays for that road. How far would their products get if auto makers had to build the roads themselves, the way railways laid tracks?

Image of highway heading into solid wall
Car culture is hitting a wall

This book is over 300 pages but it’s a snappy read except not all of the vignettes of urban life are actually tolerable. It’s great to hear that New York City is having a subway construction renaissance, but I failed to appreciate the paragraphs recounting the operations of the tunnel-boring (and I do mean boring) machine.

I wish the publisher had sprung for a few photos — such as to show transit vehicles of yesteryear, Moscow’s grand marble-floored Stalinist subway stations (“the palaces of the people”), crush loads on Japanese trains, and other such mementos.

Another quibble is that Grescoe maybe doesn’t spend as much time looking at the developing world as he should, considering how he tells us that’s where the big problem of the future is coming from.