Archive for January 5th, 2007

In search of silence

As I stood on a boardwalk next to the Puget Sound, in a near-Seattle suburb, relishing the serene sound of lapping waves and the beautiful rusted edges of a clear dusk sky, the moment was obscured by the constant din of cars rumbling by – the whoosh of small beetles, the flatulence of over-sized exhaust pipes, and the deep gurgle of eager truck engines. I fantasized for a moment what it might sound like were that sound absent, if all I could hear was wind, waves, and perhaps the subtle squeaking of bicycles rolling by.

The roads in Beijing, once dominated by the bicycle, are now giving way to the roar of autos in the name of progress. The thirst for speed and a booming economy have overridden any concerns for the health of the mental environment, of the citizenry, and of the world environment.

The problem lies in the infrastructure. The U.S. has been sprawling out white-picket-fence suburban cookie-cutter dreamlands since the early 1900s. The spaces we live in have become so spread out and bicycle and pedestrian unfriendly that we drive out of practicality and concern for our safety. Riding a bike at night in downtown Seattle doesn’t scare me at all, but I’ll be damned if I want to do it along any of these suburban streets.

And so now we compensate, looking for answers and designing elaborate systems to protect the environment from our poor way of life. It becomes complicated because we have made it so.

Cities like Amsterdam prove to us that a bicycle and pedestrian society is socially and economically viable. But we’ve become so embedded and invested into our current lifestyle that I wonder, is there any going back?

And so I finished up my walk by the sea, stepped into my car as darkness fell, and sped off and away, tearing apart the silence for someone else.

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