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Guest Speaker Sissy Farenthold Featured Guest Molly Ivins Presenting Award Bernard Rapoport Master of Ceremonies Dr. Melvin Straus Professor Emeritus, University of Texas at El Paso PLEASE JOIN THE AMERICAN CIVIL LIBERTIES UNION IN HONORING . John Henry Faulk Civil Libertarian of the Year Ronnie Dugger Founding Editor of The Texas Observer Ronnie Dugger 7:00 p.m. Saturday, December 6, 1997 at the home of Mr. and Mrs. Bill Whitehurst, 2703 Westlake Drive, Austin Tickets $50 in advance/$65 at the door Yes, I would like to honor Mr. Ronnie Dugger with my donation of $ Please consider this a confirmation of to the ACLU Foundation of Texas. guests. Name Address City State Please fill out this form and send it with your contribution to: Zip r L does. The elderly and disabled, who are shut off from the right to drive because of weakened eyesight or physical handicap, quickly discover just how isolated this leaves them: autonomy “demands mobility, and mobility demands a car.” That’s no less true for those who inhabit what Kay calls the “geography of inequity.” Car culture, she asserts, raises “high the barriers of race and class” between the urban poor and the suburban middle class. Those barriers can be quite literal, and bluntly visual: the massive East Los Angeles interchange was laid down in the midst of that city’s largest barrio; IH-95 destroyed the vibrant black community in Miami’s Overton section. Equally disquieting is the nearly 1,500 mile trail of destruction that IH-35 left in its wake; in Laredo, the highway cut a wide swath through a poor Hispanic neighborhood, in San Antonio and Austin it segregated the historically black east sides from their downtown cores, and bifurcated black neighborhoods in Dallas and Fort Worth; it even punched through the heart of the small ghettos of the Twin Cities. In one state after another, and with unerring accuracy, road engineers shafted the poor. Who’s surprised? No one, of course, least of all Jane Holtz Kay. But while Asphalt Na tion richly documents the intersection between cars and social inequality, it does not follow that automobiles alone are responsible for, or are the source of, the magnified class differences at the end of the millennium. These are a more direct result of larger economic forces, of the modern capitalist state these road engineers have served so dutifully. Even that assertion needs modification: the damaging public health conditions that envelop America’s barrios and ghettos, the physical neglect and social disarray that crops up in response to the wrecking ball and bulldozer, mirror all too precisely the catastrophic impact that the railroad had on nineteenth-century North American and European cities. So perhaps it is the transportation revolution itselfand not its contemporary, four-wheeled, exemplarthat is at fault. Fine. But that begs one last question: were we to junk the automobile, insure that all members of this society achieved a high degree of mobility, and that they live within denser, more heterogenous clusters, a landscape reminiscent of medieval Paris or colonial Philadelphia, would we of necessity have healed the social wounds of prejudice or narrowed the yawning gap between rich and poor? I doubt it. Neither the pre-industrial nor industrial eras, which endlessly debated these issues, resolved them. We of the post-industrial age, for all our insight, data, and energy, have failed as well in our hopes of stitching together the commonweal. Sure, we should dream and scheme, and in that respect it is hard not to admire Kay’s utopian vision: “Suppose we didn’t have traffic jams for the rich and cars on blocks for the poor. Suppose we had an easier, fuller way to live. How much better to live on traffic-calmed streets with grassy medians and leafed-over sidewalks, to stroll or bike down greenways, to traverse car-free Main Streets.” I’m just not convinced that this bucolic imagery, and the yearning it reflects, will be the vehicle to “carry us to a loftier place and state of being.” Char Miller teaches at Trinity University, and is the editor of American Forests: Nature, Culture, and Politics \(University of Out of the Woods: Essays in Environmental History \(University of appeared in a PBS production about the interstate highway system, “Divided Highways.” 24 THE TEXAS OBSERVER DECEMBER 5, 1997