The OregonPEN Agenda 3: Build Strong Towns

Cars are fantastic.

They are truly amazing things, virtually mobile luxury palaces, capable of conveying people around at high speed, in perfect shirtsleeve comfort regardless of the weather, with astounding reliability for such complicated machines.

We love cars.

And that’s why we can’t seem to come to grips with the fact that they killing us. 

Our infatuation — obsession, really — with cars is a root cause or major contributor to nearly every wicked problem we face.

Cars are not just the biggest threat to America — they are the threat delivered.  With a vengeance.

Cars — or, more precisely, our heedless love of cars leading to a complete reordering of society to accommodate them — are responsible not just for a huge share of the climate chaos that may well lead to the downfall of human civilization, they are the cause of the immediate violent deaths of hundreds of thousands of Americans every decades, and that’s before you even consider the long-term health consequences of turning bipedal primates into an obese populace racked by heart disease and diabetes.

Cars spewing lead fumes poisoned the world for decades, and that experiment with mass lead poisoning seems to have been responsible for a huge share of the violent crime surge that we suffered in Post-War America, a surge now mysteriously receding according to the pundit class. Of course the mystery must remain a mystery always because revealing the truth would mean discussing that the oil companies and the great industrial giants in Detroit knew that lead was and is supremely toxic and that leaded gasoline was doing to Americans what the mercury did to hat makers in Lewis Carroll’s time, making them insane, or mad as hatters.

The wondrous nature of the cars themselves — and a lifetime of ceaseless conditioning from the propaganda ministry of Madison Avenue — is why they are such a problem.

Satan never tempts you with spinach — Satan tempts with luxury goods and promises of power.  And cars are all that and more.

This issue of OregonPEN focuses on a third plank of the OregonPEN agenda — building Strong Towns, which is an idea stolen from a budding powerhouse organization called just that. Strong Towns is probably the most important and subversive environmental group in the country right now, because it hardly ever talks environmental problems per se and, therefore, avoids the MEGO response (my eyes glaze over) that environmental problems immediately trigger for a car-worshiping nation.

Instead, the Strong Towns approach is to talk to people about people problems. Only slowly, subtly, do people realize that our irrationality about cars is at the heart of the problem.

And so many of our problems start with the problem that we are bankrupting ourselves by playing the highway-fueled Growth Ponzi Scheme, where we let the sprawl lobby dictate the shape and character of all the places where we live, which has turned a huge share of this giant nation that was once noted for its infinite variety and distinct regional flavors into a broke, charmless, characterless, unhealthy, polluted mess, inhabited by a nation of people who are falling down on every ranking of social health and well-being, but who by God brought the great God Auto to the world.

The discussions below involve Chuck Marohn, a recovering engineer and planner and others who have joined in the Strong Towns discussion.

The mission of OregonPEN is to empower and engage Oregonians in making Oregon better. Spreading the Strong Towns message and helping people bring that thinking to Salem and all over Oregon is one of the most useful ways of doing it.