I never could get the hang of Thursdays

30/08/2009, 4:35 am
Filed under: Writings

I’m a pedestrian. I am not a car owner or driver and I have no intention of being one. I loathe walking down a road, restricted to the pavement which is a tenth of the width of the street, and then having to pick a side so I don’t have to cross. The traffic becomes a barrier to the other side like a torrent that you have to gauge carefully, paying attention to the ebbs and flow. Movement is restricted to crossings and traffic islands and you wait for the green man for permission to cross. Get clipped by buses as they roar past and working around the movement of vehicles, always having to be concious whenever you step off the kerb.

This is the realm of the car. The dominant user of streets. There is something satisfying about a car trying to pick it’s way along a pedestrianised street, getting stuck behind old ladies that can’t hear the engine, surrounded by a mass of people, like a colony of ants ganging up on a larger insect trying to protect their walking space. The car does not give you freedom, it inhibits your movement with roads, directions, one way systems, roadworks and traffic jams. Motorways are a great way to get from A to B directly, but if you don’t have a car you have to walk the B-roads, cross them when you find a bridge. They sever the countryside in half like a boundary.

The ultimate bain of the pedestrian’s world is the retail park, or the shopping mall. Built around a giant car-park well out of the way of the city centre, well out of walking distance, accessible only by a vehicle and built for the big companies. No space for the little guy, only big corporations and thousand foot shop floors. Trolly-sized buying and shelters so you don’t have to walk far to return them.

The pedestrian is insignificant here. If he doesn’t have a car, he can’t buy enough to fill it, therefore his business isn’t needed. To get in you have to walk along the grass verge of the long approach, huge signs listing retailers in order of ground coverage. Over the car-park, cutting across empty spaces and through hedges, linking up to smaller paths leading towards the grand entrance, like the tributaries of a river converging at the estuary.

The floor is polished, everything is uniform, escalators stop old people clogging up stairs, getting you around faster and maximising efficiency. Shops are the same format and size. The appeal is meant to be the retail experience, not the charm, architecture or natural cultural pull. Food courts and mock Viking longboats which you can sit in and eat your takeaway chips from a plastic tray and drink from a branded throw-away cup. These places are a destination for the car owner loving his freedom to go where he likes, whatever is convenient, wherever he can park for free and not have to walk far to get all the places he needs to go.

The car is his personal bubble. Road rage isn’t a problem, no-one can hear him shout over his loud music blaring out of open windows which everyone else obviously wants to hear. He waits in queues, stuck in the rush hour, using the ring-road and returns to his gravel driveway slash garden and thinks himself the winner, having done all this using as little energy as possible.


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