Road map: other ways of thinking about auto-mobility

Smith, Joe (2012). Road map: other ways of thinking about auto-mobility. In: Tyszczuk, Renata; Smith, Joe; Clark, Nigel and Butcher, Melissa eds. Atlas: Geography, Architecture and Change in an Interdependent World. London: Black Dog Publishing.



The world needs a road map to a different kind of auto-mobility. How do we get from here to there? How do we meet individual desires and needs and at the same time achieve collective environmental security and well-being? In other words, how do we attain sustainability and mobility? First, we have to take a fresh look at a not too distant past without cars and consider how we got from there to here. In the last hundred years, the motor-car has not just dominated but also defined our notions of auto-mobility. The car has redrawn the map, repurposed the roads and redefined the life of cities. Expectations about many aspects of daily life such as work, relationships, school and food have been set in asphalt. It is difficult to look at maps of towns, cities and countryside as anything other than road maps. While the private car has enabled many millions of miles of independent journeys that have allowed personal needs to be met and joys experienced it can also be argued that it has forced other ways of achieving independent mobility off the road.

Most of our maps have been redrawn to suit cars across the last century. Markets, technologies and state action have interacted to result in what Margaret Thatcher termed a ‘great car-owning democracy’ of privatised road space, congestion, declining health and damage to the built environment that appears very difficult to alter. Current attempts to unpick some of the consequences of the dominance of the car occur at a time when emerging economies are pursuing the same privatised and (usually) fossil-fuelled path but at a far more rapid rate. There seems little chance of success for ‘sustainable mobility’ policies that appear to erase the pleasures, freedoms and possibilities that a relationship with the car can offer. But we don’t have to live with what we have inherited. Instead, we should open up more diverse routes to the things people need and want. The chapter offers a concise environmental history of auto-mobility and a sketch of an alternative future. It includes reference to key theorists of environment and society such as Latour, Flyvbjerg and Urry.

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