Books by Jane Holtz Kay

Released: April 1, 1997

A committed, soft-spoken diatribe against the car culture that romanticizes the alternatives, by the architecture critic for the Nation. Kay marshals all the expected arguments plus a host of novel ones (behind the wheel ``we forfeit the . . . right to muse''), addressing issues of social, political, industrial, and individual responsibility, and costs to health, to ecosystems, to humane and aesthetic ideals. In a long-winded and discursive narrative, she makes the case that the proliferation of highways generates more traffic and exponentially more accidents, pollution, and by extension more sprawl, more waste (antifreeze, tires, etc.), and more environmental toxins. Her most sobering chapter examines the spiraling inequity of automotive disenfranchisement for the poor and older citizens: the destruction of poor urban neighborhoods for highway projects, the diversion of public monies away from public transit. After identifying the symptoms of ``car glut,'' Kay looks at the history of the problem, citing Franklin Roosevelt for ratifying the motorization of America with the New Deal road-making programs and postwar Veterans Administration mortgages for enabling suburban single-family housing (which spurred the growth of the Interstate Highway System and suburban sprawl). Kay advocates housing centralization and calls for the development and linkage of quality train and trolley systems; for rezoning to legalize multifamily and pluralistic building usage; and for city and town design that fosters walkability, privacy, and pleasure. Also, she recommends levying higher tolls and gasoline taxes, smog fees, and peak-congestion fees to discourage driving, and contends that the polity must say no to future highway expansion. There's little question that Kay's earnest arguments are compelling, but they seem to downplay the difficulties (and costs) involved in getting from our present situation to this new world, and the impact that such changes would have on an American economy deeply dependent on the automobile. They also ignore the essential fact that Americans have largely embraced a car culture. Read full book review >