The car and the senses

The fact that city-making impacts on our senses is no better illustrated than by reference to the automobile. When a city is built with the car rather than the pedestrian - the person - in mind, the car underpins the sensory experience of that city. Too often, the urban background of what we see, smell and hear is car-related: a sound wall is generated by the background hum of engines, punctuated by beeps and horns; the lingering, pervasive smell of petrochemicals permeates the air; the fuel-burning activities of engines and the ther-modynamic properties of asphalt affect the temperature; and our sightline is dominated by metal and asphalt. But because of the very ubiquity of these stimuli, we almost forget they are there.

But the presence of the car also affects our experience of the city in very tangible ways. Cars are a very real danger that both pedes-

Source: Charles Landry

How many old industrial buildings are left to be regenerated?

trians and motorists have to be aware of in order to survive. If we're careful, we look sharply left and right at junctions and crossings to check for oncoming traffic. Thus, by necessity in such situations, we are forced to ignore the finer details and nuances of the cityscape. Similarly, we are attuned to an entire lexicography of signs dedicated to communicating conduct in relation to motor vehicles. But the interpretation of greens, reds and ambers at traffic lights and crossings can preclude an even-paced, reflective urban experience.

In the sensory descriptions of the city below, it is therefore not possible to avoid returning to aspects of the car. But the point here is not to sound a rallying call against cars per se, but rather to remind ourselves how motorized society inflects our senses, our emotions and our being. The car sights, smells and sounds that frequently confront us do not beckon or welcome us, or lead us to open out. Instead we tighten up, close in our ears and noses and squint our eyes as we try to blank out the persistent roary growl of cars or the leaden odour of fumes. We then operate on restricted registers of experience and possibility. The tightening up process encourages withdrawal into inner worlds with a desire to communicate less. This is the opposite of the image of the good city life of human interaction, vibrancy and vitality.

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