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Saturday, October 23, 2010

Asphalt Nation by Jane Holtz Kay~★★★

Author: Jane Holtz Kay
Title: Asphalt Nation: How the Automobile Took Over America and How We Can Take It Back
Release Date: October 1st, 1998
Publisher: University of California Press
Genre: Non-Fiction

Book Cover: "Asphalt Nation is a powerful examination of how the automobile has ravaged American's cities and landscape over the past 100 years, together with a compelling strategy for reversing our automobile-dependency. Jane Holtz Kay provides a history of the rapid spread of the automobile and documents the huge subsidies commanded by the highway lobby, to the detriment of once-efficient forms of mass transportation. Demonstrating that there are economic, political, architectural, and personal solutions to the problem, she shows that radical change is entirely possible. This book is essential reading for everyone interested in the history of our relationship with the car, and in the prospect of returning to a world of human mobility."

Taryn's Review: Jane Holtz Kay knew what she wanted to do before she ever put the pen to the paper with this book. She wanted to prove why she thinks cars are awful. She cited very poorly throughout the book not using Chicago, MLA, or APA guidelines. But she did use sources and pictures throughout her book and she did make her argument very clear.

What was the problem for me? She excluded one huge factor in her work: the human agency. She blamed the car, an inanimate object, for many problems from pollution to infrastructure change to the loss of Main Street America. The issue was that people did it, not the car. People chose to keep buying cars, to throw money at interstate systems, to build parking lots for their stores, and they chose to enjoy their vehicles. Kay disregarded the cultural side of America where teens expect cars, people want nice cars, and that people will spend extraordinary amounts for high-end cars. Why is this? I don't know, but Kay didn't bother to even consider it.

My other issue was that for Kay, it seemed rural America was non-existent. She is from Boston, and I'm sure it's possible for her to walk places to get groceries, run errands, and the like. However, here in the Midwest, it is not possible to do these things without a car. In the small town of 700 where I grew up, there are no buses, no trains, no subways to take you where you need to go. You have to have a car to go and buy groceries, as there is no grocery store in my town. You have to have a car to commute to the local city for a job, as jobs existing in my town are few and far between. Kay ignored the idea that some places in rural America only still exist because the car is an affordable means of transportation for the people living there. I'm sure ideally it would be nice for the government to build rail lines to connect smaller places to cities; but speaking in terms of costs, I'm sure it's cheaper just to maintain the roads than  to construct rail lines, stations, and whatever other costs would be involved.

Overall, this book is going to appeal highly to the radical environmentalist, city dwellers, and people who generally hate the car. Her book made me think, sure. But its flaws were glaring for me, and those flaws had a definite impact on my enjoyment and application of the book in my life.

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