News reaches me from Los Angeles, via Bruce Sterling that, in the corporate imagination of General Motors, “the Hummer could be transformed from the SUV that environmentalists love to hate to an algae-infused, oxygen-exuding buggy that would open up like a flower.” (GM’s sketch for the “Hummer O2” was named the winner on Thursday of a design contest at the Los Angeles Auto Show that challenged major automakers to design a vehicle with a five-year life span that could be fully recycled).
This, I’m sad to say, is another example of the creative class – in this case, auto designers – fiddling-while-the-biosphere-burns. The fudamental probelm with the car is not that it burns too much of the wrong kind of fuel. The problem is that cars enable, and perpetuate, patterns of land use, transport intensity, and the separation of functions in space and time, that render the whole way we live unsupportable.
Rather than tinkering with symptoms – such as inventing hydrogen-powered vehicles, or turning gas stations into battery stations – the more interesting design task is to re-think the way we use time and space.
Rather than enable long-distance patterns of movement, at accelerating speeds, we should add a ton of new functions and value to local patterns of activity so that we no longer need or want to move so much, except on foot or by bike. There’s plenty of evidence, after all, that self-propulsion is central to everything from tackling obesity and climate change to creating high quality liveable cities.
In the immortal words of Janine Benyus, “nature does not commute to work” – and neither, at the end of the day, should we.