Monday, November 16, 2009

Book Review: After The Car

Full Disclosure: I received a free copy in return for this review

Despite the provocative title and front cover of the book, After The Car by authors Kingsly Dennis and John Urry, there is little radical thought or ideas that give a blueprint on how our society will organize after the decline of the personal automobile. That said, if you are new to how personal transportation issues relate to global climate change, economics, social organization, and urban design, than this book gives a short and concise summary that provides a good overview of all these issues. Overall After The Car is a well-written and well-thought out book that is concise and covers a lot of ground in a very small package.

At a mere 164 pages, After The Car, takes the reader through a handful of today's most pressing issues. The first chapter quickly explores the situation we find ourselves in today, including climate change, peak oil, the growth of the Internets, and the supremacy of urban areas. This quick overview sets the stage for the rest of the book and for how we got to the situation we find ourselves in today.

The heart of the book delves into how the car came to completely reshape our lives. At one time the automobile was a new and disruptive technology. At the beginning of the car's history it transformed the lives of millions of people and led to a huge leap in productivity. But after a century of the car's dominance it has come to signify, "...many of the most troubling aspects of human civilization."

The authors take the view that the dominance of the car is thanks to the convergence of various trends such as allowing for freedom of mobility, the huge increase in economic productivity it allowed, and the complete seepage of car culture into the fabric popular American culture. But this wholehearted acceptance of the car has led to unintended consequences. The car system's full adoption by society has come to mean high levels of pollution, possible climate change, economies that are held back by the maintenance of sprawling transportation networks, and the adverse social affects that come with being so spread out and disconnected from one's neighbor.

As for my aforementioned disappointment, once the book finally makes it to a diagnosis for our future, there is very little in the way of new thinking and rather mostly a simple summary of current trends that might come to partially supplant the current transportation system. The trends covered include denser living through new urban design, rapid personal transit, electrical vehicles (EVs), and green cities. The authors express great hope in the idea of green cities such as Dongtan China, even though most of the over hyped green trophies are still just nice drawings on some government official's desk.

The criticism I can't get out of my head is talk of how EVs and biofuels will be a part of the solution. For a book entitled After The Car it seems a bit of contradiction to propose that EVs and biofuels will really change anything. How many trillions of dollars will ultimately need to be spent on infrastructure to build generating capacity just to power our EVs and how little will that investment reduce our green house gas emissions? This is a question that the authors simply gloss over.

Overall, After The Car, does an excellent job of giving a concise overview of many of the issues that will shape our new century and how that could affect our transportation system. But there is little revolutionary thought held within the pages of the book, and despite the title, there is almost no vision of our future after the car.


EU Reimport said...

The race against the time, cannot be chased using cars. Time is precious so buy fastest car and save your time driving the car. I like Eu Neuwagen cars which are very fast and had great attraction with there stylish model.

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