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A Fresh Look at American Sprawl

9:25 AM PST on March 9, 2010

WelcometoConcrete.jpgThere's only one Concrete, WA, but concrete and asphalt are the welcome mats for towns across America. Image: Gord McKenna/Flickr.

American
advocates for livable streets know that our addiction to the automobile
is almost without peer. We know that we've given our land to driving
lanes and parking lots and our air to exhaust fumes. Nevertheless, it
can be hard to step outside of the car culture we've spent our lives
marinating in and see the country with a new perspective.

That's why this letter we received from two British tourists is
so refreshing. It's both a stark admonishment of how much we've given
up for the car, sometimes barely noticing it, and a heartening reminder
that what often seems normal to us need not be: 

Weare visitors to the States from England. Our main reason for coming wasto visit friends, however upon researching into transport options wewere horrified to discover that the only viable option to get from NYto LA via many small towns was by car. Many of our friends have triedto justify this saying that 'America is simply too big to have publictransport'. To us, this is purely INSANE. Surely a huge country shouldoffer the best public transport in the world! Bullet trains could coverthe driving distances in no time.

We are feeling quiteashamed of ourselves as we write this but inevitably we did end updriving across America. We have found the American people to bewelcoming and friendly and the landscape beautiful but we have not yetseen a single 'town' in the US that we, as Europeans would class as atown. I would class them more as motorway service stations. Buildingsdesigned for cars. People waiting in line for a drive through. Peoplecompeting for car parking spaces at gyms! These are not communities aswe would recognise - market squares, parks, rivers, cafes, stations,public art, gardens etc. 'Towns' are simply not towns! We feel saddenedthat many Americans are not afforded the community lifestyle that weenjoy in Europe.

Our purpose of writing is not to attackyour country and we do apologise if we have offended. I am writing tourge you, beg with you, plead with you to keep up the fantastic workthat you are doing. Despite the wonderful time that we have had in theUS I simply cannot wait to get home in order to walk from my flat andpick up a newspaper and a pint of milk, on my journey I shall say helloto everyone I meet, take note of the weather and breathe some fresh air.

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