There is an insidious concept that has crept through America’s cities and towns over the past half century. It is not the rise of violent crime or drugs. It is the fetishization of the automobile.
In today’s modern world, having a car is a ticket to society. Lacking a car can cause a member of society a multitude of problems. Communities are completely centered around the presumption that every member of the community will have access to a car. This, as I’m sure you can imagine, can also cause many problems.
Firstly, if you don’t have a car, you can be locked out of applying for many different jobs. This denial can either be from the job requiring the possession of a vehicle, regardless of the vehicle’s necessity to the job, or the job being distant enough away that having a vehicle would make access to the job site much easier. This problem cascades into the potential workforce. Workers who are unable to apply for a job that matches both their interests and skills but can cause mental stress or dissatisfaction and can cause the business to suffer in the long run.
Secondly, when the community is centered around the car, the pedestrian is completely disregarded. It becomes actively dangerous for someone to walk even a section of the city. Communities that have minimal space for walking such as sidewalks and crosswalks or have no space at all create communities that are both less centralized and less connected. This was a product of rapid urbanization throughout the 20th century.
Even though small towns like Pittsburg and the surrounding area did not expand in the same manner as cities like Kansas City or Springfield, they still fell prey to the same pitfalls of focusing more on the cars driven than the people who live and drive them.
Many small towns have only one or two grocery stores and they usually are not located in centralized areas where most of the community can access them. This is in stark contrast to communities of the past. The existence of the car is a relatively new invention in human history and so small neighborhoods would have small “corner stores” or just community general stores. This would provide a convenient source of essentials for families without having to travel far. With the dominance of the car and the practical death of public transportation in the United States, these general stores were strangled by cost-cutting at large stores like Wal-Mart.
The best thing that city governments, especially Pittsburg) can do is invest in public transportation and other infrastructure projects that directly affect people’s lives. This means repaired and maintained sidewalks, robust bus systems, renovations to streets in downtown or high walking traffic areas to create “pedestrian-centered areas.” There are many cities in Europe which have centered much of their cities on people rather than cars, and this stands to improve the lives of everyone. Creating people-centered communities must be a priority in the “richest country in the world” to bring the standard of living higher for all people who live here in the United States.