Christopher Harvie

Christopher Harvie
4 May 2011

The transformational change I believe to be essential is to recognise the end of the private car. In 1903 the poet John Davidson saw the rise of individual powered transport as a break with the essentially collective - though not compulsive - spirit of the 19th century and the railway, in a remarkably perceptive poem called 'The Testament of Sir Simon Simplex concerning automobilism'. In this he set out the 'two legs good, four wheels better' philosophy which governed the twentieth century. Among its enthusiasts were of course Henry Ford and his admirer Adolf Hitler, who saw mobility per se as an absorbing alternative to thought. With one car per four people in the 1920s the USA led the way into hyperindividualised mania. Despite the fact that only 15% of world population owned 85% of the world's cars - a proportion which remained constant because of population growth - there was no increase in human knowledge or efficiency (Anthony Trollope's 'railway compartment as mobile office') given the need to power and steer the car. This lay behind the accelerating decline of the USA after the 1980s, its urban identity and the physique problems of its people. The issue was solved by the impact of Peak Oil after 2010, with a rapid rise of oil to $300 a barrel, making a 'car-friendly society' impossible and imposing a rational transport/life balance.

Or so we must hope.

Author: Christopher Harvie

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