Graduation year: 2022
Semester/year area of interest proposed: Spring 2020
Major status: ENVS double major
Other major (if applicable): English
Minor(s) (if applicable):
The automobile links people both geographically and socially. As it bridges broad geographical distances physically, it also provides access to spaces as opportunities for economic mobility. For example, commutes to workplaces in financial boroughs of cities allow for better job opportunities (Ewing and Cervero 2010; Grengs 2010). The automobile freely connects suburban neighborhoods to urban centers, and within cities, divided neighborhoods are bridged through the systematic integration of the automobile into city planning.
It is impossible to detach contemporary cities from the automobile. Susan Handy claims the advent of the automobile created a “cycle of dependence” in city planning. As the automobile expanded accessibility by reducing travel time and limiting physical exertion, increasing “unprecedented freedom”, cities were allowed to expand beyond previously set physical limitations. The extension of the car enables the distance between people and community spaces like retail centers, limiting access to goods if one does not have access to a car (Handy 1997). Because the need for transportation is integral to existing city infrastructure and continues to be a heavy consideration in the future of city development, it is valuable to understand how this “hegemonic” need for transport came to be. According to Peter Freund and George Martin, automobility, or the use of automobiles as the major means of transportation, is a hegemony: it takes over spaces that had once been used for other functions, it instills a value on privacy and distance of over the once intimate public community. Freund and Martin claim “city character is blurred until every place becomes more like every other place, all adding up to no place.” (Freund and Martin 1993)
If the ecological effects discussed by Freund and Martin threaten community, environmental health, and thrive on a system of high-consumption and high waste, it is important to ask what culturally perpetuates the high prevalence of car usage in spite of these drawbacks. Because cities are fully reliant on transportation, it is valuable to view transport as a form of access. So it follows that understanding automobility is a social justice issue, and focusing on urban areas reveals insights on human connectivity. Currently, the automobile is the predominant way to get around because it lacks limitation: the automobile is physical freedom.
While the physical benefits to car ownership involve accessibility, purchasing a car comes with symbolic value as well: status, personal freedom. Access to the automobile is access to a level of social class. It is here where literature becomes a valuable tool to interpret the emotional values of automobility. In analyzing literature which references the automobile, we reveal intense hopes and anxieties about modernity and social class. For example, In F Scott Fitzgerald’s The Great Gatsby, Gatsby’s car stands for a “larger social ill” and becomes a dangerous weapon of death in a moment of fear similar to Freund and Martin warning against significant mortality and morbidity from air pollution caused by the car (Lance 2000; Freund and Martin 1993). Transit scholars not only agree about ideological attachment to the automobile but add to scholarship on the ideological values of the automobile. Jason Henderson claims the car represents a personal space: “a ‘love affair’ with automobiles veil[s] the deeper social meanings embedded in automobility. For example, the notion of a ‘love’ for automobility is often conflated with ‘secessionist automobility’, or using the car as a means of physically separating oneself from spatial configurations” (Henderson 2006).
Like in reality, car ownership has ideological benefits beyond its symbolic status as a modern chariot of death. The car is still representative of the dream of freedom. In road travel narratives we search for “personal identity, to seek or clarify a sense of national purpose, or to protest establishment values” (Primeau 2013). In Steinbeck’s The Grapes of Wrath, Roger N. Casey observes that “within the framework of the novel the automobile becomes a signifier representing a myriad of interpretive possibilities as complex as the causes of the Depression itself” (Casey 1997; DeLucia 2014).
This deeper cultural attachment to the automobile and all it represents shows that not only is it impossible to detach city development from cars, but it is also impossible to detach ourselves from cars.
Understanding automobility, in the context of city development and its ideological roots as apparent in literature, is essential to understanding current envirojustice values of freedom. What is to be done about automobility? What have we culturally lost from the expansion of cities?
- How did American automobility come to be?
- What ideologically underpins auto hegemony?
- How does 20th-century literature use the automobile as a literary symbol?
- What is the connection between auto hegemony and city planning and development?
- What are the social benefits and disadvantages of car ownership?
- What does examining the ideological value attached to cars say more broadly about national cultural values?
- How does literature artistically represent the social values of automobility?
- What are successful alternatives to automobility and do alternatives need to be developed at all?
- How do we implement policies in city development which work towards a low-emission, less auto-dependent, sustainable future?
- ENG 205 (Major Periods and Issues in English Literature) (FALL 19): This course provides basic historical background and introduction to post-war literature and poetry.
- SOAN282 (Pacific Rim Cities) (FALL 20): This SOAN course in urban planning looks at how pacific rim cities develop, looking into how transnational relations work to tie coastal cities together. I think tying this to transport is possible, especially when looking at cities’ considerations on transit systems, and interconnectedness through transit.
- Independent Study 499 (SPRING 21): I want to design a high-level independent study that specifically delves into automobility as a motif in literature as it pertains to this Area of Interest.
- HIST239 (Constructing the American Landscape) (FALL 21): Constructing the American Landscape seems valuable as it historicizes American city development.
Here are the required breadth courses I will include in my ENVS major/minor: CHEM 100, GEOL 150, ECON 260, HIST 239, HIST 261, RELS 102. These are in addition to my ENVS core courses, and the area of interest courses I propose above.
Revisions to date
- February 2020: I met with Prof. Jessica Kleiss about initial feedback on my Area of Interest, reformed it to have less vague topical words.
- March 2020: I workshopped my questions around March 2020, and worked on being more specific about the English element to this Area of Interest. I also refined a clearer schedule of Breadth Courses to take to academically support future research.
- Beidler, Philip D. “The Great Party-Crasher: Mrs. Dalloway, The Great Gatsby, and the Cultures of World War I Remembrance.” War, Literature, and the Arts: An International Journal of the Humanities 25 (2013).
- Bianco, Martha. “Technological Innovation and the Rise and Fall of Urban Mass Transit.” Journal of Urban History, vol. 25, no. 3, 1999, pp. 348–78.
- Boschmann, Eric E., and Mei-Po Kwan. “Toward Socially Sustainable Urban Transportation: Progress and Potentials.” International Journal of Sustainable Transportation, vol. 2, no. 3, 2008, pp. 138–57.
- Casey, Roger N. Textual Vehicles: The Automobile in American Literature. New York: Garland Publishing, Inc., 1997
- DeLucia. “Positioning Steinbeck’s Automobiles:” The Steinbeck Review, vol. 11, no. 2, 2014, p. 138.
- Ewing, Reid, and Robert Cervero. “Travel and the Built Environment: A Meta-Analysis.” Journal of the American Planning Association, vol. 76, no. 3, June 2010, pp. 265–94.
- Fitzgerald, Joan. “Chapter 6: Creating a Green Transport Economy.” Emerald Cities: Urban Sustainability and Economic Development. Oxford University Press, 2010, pp. 119–148.
- Freund, Peter, and George Martin. The Ecology of the Automobile. Black Rose Books, 1993.
- Grengs, Joe. “Job Accessibility and the Modal Mismatch in Detroit.” Journal of Transport Geography, vol. 18, no. 1, 2010, pp. 42–54.
- Handy, Susan L. A Cycle of Dependence: Automobiles, Accessibility, and the Evolution of the Transportation and Retail Hierarchies. 1993.
- Henderson, Jason. “Secessionist Automobility: Racism, Anti-Urbanism, and the Politics of Automobility in Atlanta, Georgia.” International Journal of Urban and Regional Research, vol. 30, no. 2, 2006, pp. 293–307.
- Krizek, Kevin J., et al. “Explaining Changes in Walking and Bicycling Behavior: Challenges for Transportation Research.” Environment and Planning B: Planning and Design, vol. 36, no. 4, 2009, pp. 725–40.
- Lance, Jacqueline. “The Great Gatsby: Driving to Destruction with the Rich and Careless at the Wheel.” Studies in Popular Culture, vol. 23, no. 2, October 2000, pp. 25-35.
- Primeau, Ronald. “On American Road Literature” Critical Insights, 2013.
- Rabinovitch, Jonas. “Curitiba: Towards Sustainable Urban Development.” Environment and Urbanization, vol. 4, no. 2, Oct. 1992, pp. 62–73. SAGE Journals.