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Despite my title, I am not going to rail against the automobile, though I will summarize its obvious flaws, whether piston-powered or electric, and especially in urban areas.
Instead, I mostly want to talk about what we – you and I – can do to quickly offset or improve upon these limitations, while enjoying and even increasing the benefits, opportunity, and natural wonder of motorized commerce and travel for all.
A Typical Day In A Typical City, Nearly Everywhere These Days
As you well know, automobiles suffer from a number of natural drawbacks. This is true in all times, but is a fact increasingly understood and plain in the twenty-first century. These disadvantages of automobiles include their being: 1) expensive to own and operate, 2) resource-intensive and polluting, 3) generally unsustainable as a technology at scale, 4) relatively dangerous to occupants and bystanders alike, 5) physically and ecologically intrusive in the environment, and 6) an enabler of urban sprawl and thereby a promoter of further environmental intrusion and harm.
In addition, automobiles are also naturally and ironically road-congesting when they become the norm – and far more so than other modes of transportation. Automobiles are therefore regularly infuriating, time-wasting, stressful or even soul-destroying (at least to ambitious billionaires), and thus pedestrian. At the same time, however, automobiles and other large motor vehicles have important benefits or advantages. Notably, this includes their ability to carry us and other heavy things great distances and in ways that otherwise might be impractical, difficult, or more costly.
So what to do about all this? While some among us say the problem with automobiles is inadequate roads (or tunnels), the unstoppable ineptitude of their human drivers, or inadequate technological advancement in other regards, all this merely overlooks, extends, or buries the natural shortcomings inherent in widespread and frequent motorized travel.
As an alternative to this, I would like to suggest five steps we all can realistically take to immediately reduce the prevalence and natural harm of automobiles, while simultaneously decongesting our roadways and making high-value automotive transportation more efficient, and even more enjoyable:
#1: Move – if you cannot live, work, and play without an automobile where you reside, you and your family of course have the opportunity to move to a place where you can, and this process can be aided by the reduced costs of not depending on and paying for one or more automobiles to fulfill normal activities of daily life
#2: De-Car – while or after you move, you can sell, donate, or recycle your automobile or automobiles, again reducing costs, but also encouraging car-free, and perhaps more carefree, living on your part
#3: Ride-Share – once you are car-free, you can make full use of your transportation options, including highly social buses and trains, more exclusive ride-sharing services, and still more exclusive automobile rental – in all cases, but proportionately so, reducing your transportation costs and ecological impact on the planet
#4: Walk & Cycle – for shorter trips, and ones without significant things to carry, walking or cycling is of course a waiting, renaturalizing, and health-increasing option, especially if the route has safe walkways or bike paths, which it will if we are careful in step one, or are willing to lobby city hall
#5: Move Again – if your first car-free location proves less than ideal and thus a learning experience, you always can move again, with the added benefit not only of improving your quality of life, but also signalling to planners and developers growing demand for high-quality, car-free housing and living arrangements overall
As I said before, my goal here is not to rage against the machine or advocate elimination of all automobiles. Rather, it is to reduce their ill-considered and needless use, their inherent ecological and financial costs, and their contribution to reduced human health, happiness, and social connection.
Indeed, by following the above steps, not only would we and our cities and towns become healthier and more sustainable, our road systems and roadsides would be significantly emptied and de-cluttered as well – increasing the efficiency of commercial traffic and also restoring the wonder and beauty of driving, when we periodically take a trip and rove the open road away from home.
Mark Lundegren is the founder of ArchaNatura.
Tell others about ArchaNatura…encourage modern natural design!
In our era of increasing excess, but also increasingly inaccessible excess, there is now an important counter-trend – one favoring mobile homes, smaller homes, and even tiny homes. This trend often seeks to promote less expensive living, less encumbered living, more intentional living, ecologically greener living, or all of these complementary goals at once.
While this overall movement has produced many interesting designs and innovations, one home feature that is frequently lost or missing in the pursuit of smaller or more minimalistic homes is privacy, and especially private outdoor space. Fortunately, this omission is readily avoided and there are a number of ways of preserving or creating private space as today’s architects, builders, property owners, and developers downsize the footprint of housing.
Model Of Small Classical Courtyard – An Option For Modern Minimal Living
Simple steps to increase home privacy generally involve the use of natural or artificial screening around a building site, which can result in designs that are creative, functional, satisfying, space enhancing, and quite beautiful, as I wrote about in Rethinking Walls & Fences. However, sometimes we will want a solution that creates greater privacy, and especially greater acoustical and visual isolation, than screening and similar approaches may afford. Here, we can look to pre-modern urban and suburban building to see an earlier widespread method for creating significant household privacy, especially on a small scale or in fairly dense living conditions. As my title highlights, this method involves the use of courtyards.
The idea of bringing courtyards to modern minimal living and small or tiny home designs may seem an extravagance. But the truth is that, except in mid or high-rise urban cores, courtyards can be created simply and inexpensively, for little more cost than the land the courtyard occupies. Indeed, sometimes courtyards even can be created almost for free, as in the case of mobile living on public lands or when reconfiguring inefficiently designed spaces. And as the focus for this discussion, homes themselves also can be designed from the start to be naturally self-screening or area-enclosing, creating private courtyard spaces automatically, as they are built and quite simply.
Essential to modern design, building, development, and economic investment, on many fronts, is an understanding of electricity. Not so much how electricity works, but how it will be created and provided in the future – whether to homes, businesses, whole communities, or industry.
In much of the world today, electricity is of course primarily generated in power plants and transmitted via electrical grids by utilities of various types and sizes (see Ta’u for an example of a new and growing exception). Power plants in our time generally use natural gas, diesel, coal, nuclear fission, or dammed water to turn large generators. However, as you likely know, a small but increasing part of this mix is electricity from solar power plants, rooftop solar panels, and wind turbines.
What may be less clear is that much of this is likely to change, and perhaps soon and quite rapidly or radically. In a decade or two, electricity may be increasingly generated by building-installed solar panels or sheathing, stored in batteries where it is generated, and no longer transmitted by power grids at all. Power poles in residential and commercial areas may be coming down, traditional electrical utilities may be facing bankruptcy, and large power plants and long distance transmission systems may have begun to become obsolete.
A Gridless, Solar-Powered Future May Be Driven By Simple Economics
If this idea or prospect seems uncertain or doubtful to you, let me make the case why it may be likely and even inevitable, and also give you an idea of what more decentralized – or more naturally distributed, autonomous, and democratic – off-grid power systems might look like in the future. Importantly, let me add that these new building-level power systems may, in turn, usher in or become part of a larger movement to modularize and automate building and development more generally, perhaps significantly reducing building construction (or installation) costs, as I will explain.
Self-driving or autonomous cars and trucks are coming, and soon. Not only are the number of firms developing the technology increasing, regulatory barriers and public skepticism are receding, and the initial rollout of the vehicles is proceeding successfully.
As I write this, Google brethren and early market-leader Waymo has driverless, level-4 autonomous vans roaming the streets of Phoenix, Arizona, with plans to expand and achieve fully autonomous, level-5 functioning in the near term.
Self-Driving Technology May Change The Way We Live Overall
But what about self-driving or autonomous motorhomes, or mobile homes, here meaning more than mere recreational vehicles? As autonomous vehicle technology proliferates, self-driving mobile homes cannot be far behind, and perhaps with far-reaching consequences. After all, if we could live and move in our homes, and not have to drive or steer them, many of us might choose to no longer have fixed homes, and to live far more mobile or location-flexible lives than we do today.
Consider some of the potential key features of mobile living, if we could live and work, and not have to drive, as we move:
In our changing, more globally conscious, and, for many, economically pressured times, material minimalism and ‘less is more’ thinking is decidedly in vogue – and this is particularly true as respects our housing choices.
Reducing our material footprint has many advantages, and the way we house ourselves is a principal factor determining the personal and collective mark we make on our planet, potentially leading to sprawl and ecological harm, or not.
Beyond improved ecological sustainability for us all, at a personal level material downsizing and the move to intentionally smaller and lower-cost homes can offer reduced stress, greater freedom, and even new happiness. In the latter case, this is through the ongoing opportunities for attentiveness, deliberateness, creativity, and joy from intentional or intrinsic living, qualities that small homes naturally and often unexpectedly foster.
Tiny, Mobile & Studio Homes – Opportunities To Explore Intentional Modern Living
In the move to smaller, more intentional living spaces, and leaving aside shared housing, three main strategies dominate – tiny homes, mobile homes, and studio homes. All have an appeal to those of us wishing to downsize, rightsize, or deliberatize the space we call home. But what are the relative advantages and disadvantages of each approach?
To explore this question, I’ll provide a brief overview of tiny homes, mobile homes, and studio homes, three housing options that similarly emphasize smaller material footprints and generally foster or require more intentional living. But perhaps more importantly, I will then provide a framework for thinking about these and other approaches to the way we house ourselves, perhaps helping and inspiring you to examine your own personal options for life that is more deliberate, created, joyful, and sustainable.
#1: Tiny Homes
You are probably aware that a “tiny house” movement is afoot across the developed world, and has been growing rapidly in popularity and scope since the Great Recession of 2008 (see Tiny House Movement).
Plant-covered walls are a popular trend in architecture and design today, reflecting our natural need and desire to have living nature around us. But not all so-called living walls or vertical gardens are created alike. Because of this, understanding their basic variations can help us to design, build, or buy living walls more optimally and advantageously.
Owing to their two quite different basic designs – green walls and green facades – and the high number of potential variations on these designs, living walls should be viewed as an extremely flexible design tool. In practice, they can be employed: 1) with nearly any type of building, 2) as both interior and exterior walls, 3) with either edible or ornamental plants, and 4) on almost any budget.
Living Wall Softens The Lines Of A Mid-Rise Modernist Hotel (LivinSpaces)
Indeed, after their initial construction costs, many living walls will steadily pay for themselves through superior building and environmental performance, in addition to offering strong and ongoing visual and psychological appeal.
Before we can intelligently design and create – whether an invention, a building, or a life – we need a clear sense of essential needs or requirements to guide our actions. As has been said, we are wise to always begin with an end in mind. Without this context or frame of reference, we will tend to act and create haphazardly, and achieve beneficial results only by chance.
This idea is taught in most schools of design and engineering. And yet, the needs and requirements we uncover and pursue as creators can be superficial, far from essential or penetrating, and less apt to lead to true innovation or breakthroughs in human value. Too often, we seek, see, and fulfill only limited requirements or expedient outcomes. And thus, we leave or give to others the opportunity to see more fundamentally into life’s many needs and requirements, and the chance to surpass us and our work on the back of their deeper or more enduring insights.
Life Is Full Of Options, But Which – Or What – Is Most Essential?
There are of course countless examples of this – new designs, technologies, and products that radically upend existing and more narrowly or poorly grounded approaches – and I will leave you to pick your favorites. One of mine is the case of homebuyers, who often begin with very fixed ideas about the type of home they want, but often can be led in wholly new directions by exposure to alternatives that better understand and reflect or express their essential needs.
As I suggested, a way to see, design, create, and live more essentially, and thus more intelligently and innovatively, is to delve fundamentals – when approaching an immediate challenge or presented set of requirements, and more broadly. By extension, the ultimate expression of this process is to seek and pursue our or other’s most essential needs, in any area or across all areas of modern life and endeavor, and perhaps helping to re-create and eclipse how life is structured today entirely.