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Commentary: To join car culture or not?

Under CC license from Flickr user Michael Patrick

San Francisco is an environmentally conscious city, so it would make sense that many who live in and around it struggle with issues like how to get around. 

Avi Hoen sure is. He’s a high school student at Ruth Asawa School of the Arts in San Francisco. He’s about to turn 16 and has a hand-me-down car, but he isn’t sure he needs it.

AVI HOEN: Brisbane is one of those towns that seems like it still might be in the 1950’s:  three churches, three bars, and two liquor stores.  But there’s also a very modern city ordinance: that each household must have at least four off-street parking spaces. My question is this: do most households have more than four cars?  If so, why would anyone need four cars?  

I get it, as the offspring of suburbanites I understand that public transportation can be dreadful, and that even with all the facts about global warming and the ozone layer, we still all need to get to work. But still, I wonder if there is anything that can be done to reduce the urge to “hop in the car to grab a gallon of milk.”  Even with the four-car parking ordinance, it’s still sometimes hard to find a space in my town. My neighbor, who’s from L.A., drives to the library -- three blocks away from his house.  Of course in “Olde Town Brisbane” there is the ability to walk to things, but since most of the city’s residents grew up expecting a car-centered lifestyle, it’s hard to break the “jump in the car” routine.  

I’m in the process of getting my drivers’ license, so yes, I too am starting to make excuses about why I have to drive.  With school being in the city, and my home being an hour to an hour and a half away by bus, it will be really nice to wake up later, and be on my own time instead of SamTrans’s schedule.  My excuses range from I’m a teenager, I need sleep, to it’s faster to drive, to I want to take "selfies" of myself behind the wheel, to, it’s an important step to becoming an adult.

But since when is driving indicative of your adulthood?  As I walk to my bus stop in the morning I see some of the kids I grew up with in flatbed Fords, or texting behind the wheel of their mothers’ minivans.  They don’t look any older then me.  Shouldn’t adulthood be about when your beard grows or when your parents deem you responsible to take care of your younger sibling, instead of about a machine? American Suburbia has been set up with cars in mind, but I don’t think I want to make this car lifestyle into my own.

So for now, I’m trying to figure out what I want to do with my hand-me-down 1992 Toyota and the car culture I have been bred into.  As a soon to be 16-year-old, I hope my frontal lobe is developed enough to make the right choice between cars, public transit, and car culture.  I urge fully developed frontal lobe people to reevaluate the way they get around.  Hopefully as a society we can find a solution to car culture.  There is a saying that says that a person’s mind is a blank slate and the world’s experience paints that slate into the person they are.  I just wish someone hadn’t painted grey smog over my slate so that I might be able to grow up without the influence and pressure of cars.  

Avi Hoen is a student at Ruth Asawa School of the Arts in San Francisco. His commentary was edited by Maia Ipp.