"Jane Holtz Kay's book has given us a profound way of seeing the automobile's ruinous impact on American life. Asphalt Nation is terrific."Jane Jacobs, author of The Death and Life of Great American Cities
Kay, architecture critic for the Nation, argues forcefully here that the automobile holds America in economic, emotional and physical gridlock. The car-and the highways it rides on and the gasoline it burns-has debased our architecture, ruined our health, polluted our environment, undermined our public transportation systems and isolated the nation's poor and infirm. With an eye for memorable phrases and startling facts (every car on the road costs its "user and society" between $9000 and $11,000 a year), she not only defines the problem but also traces how she believes it was created, from the Model T Ford, through the suburban boom, to our current "three-car culture" in which the largest percentage of time and mileage is not devoted to commuting to work but to running errands. Kay's solutions are controversial. Stop highway construction (new and wider roads don't end congestion, they spread it); divert highway money to improving train and streetcar transportation; change zoning laws to encourage small apartments (for the young and the elderly) in downtown areas, which, she thinks, would encourage walking and biking; make cities more walker-friendly; cut down on the number of parking lots; increase the cost of car registration. This is an unabashed polemic; the problems Kay portrays so vividly in the first two thirds of the book are more convincing than the solutions she suggests in the last third.