On the night before my flight out of DC, after a week of playing Tesla Taxi Driver in DC rush hour traffic, I parked the car, walked down to the basement kitchen of the IG mansion in DC, handed the keys to Jim, poured myself three fingers of Black Label, and took a deep breath. It was over.
Now that I've got a little distance from the experience, I have some final thoughts to close it out. This post is the end of the Tesla Road Trip blog - you won't get any more emails from this list - but I'm going to keep writing. If you want to get no-more-than-once-a-week updates from me on random topics like travel, visualization, sustainability, etc, you can put your email in this box and I'll add you to the list.
At the beginning of the trip I thought it would be neat to post a picture of every Supercharger station I stopped at. Pretty early on the novelty of that activity wore off as I noticed a pattern: all the Superchargers are in ugly places. Strip mall parking lots. Express hotel back lots. Gas stations. Carl's Juniors. Waffle Houses.
It's not really Tesla's fault that their stations are in ugly spots. Most places in this country are ugly. Everywhere I looked on my drive I saw asphalt, billboards, fast food joints, concrete barriers, neon signs, telephone lines, and oceans of sprawled-out low-quality suburban housing. America has some of the most beautiful natural landscapes on the whole planet, but the cities and towns where people live are almost uniformly ugly.
Somewhere in Georgia I stopped at a Supercharger located behind a gas station/town market. I wanted to walk to a deli a few blocks away to get a sandwich. I made it a few hundred yards before the sidewalk ended. I kept going, walking over a sort of dirt lawn thing, before coming to a large intersection. There were no pedestrian signals or crosswalks. I stood at the intersection for five minutes, waiting for an opportunity to cross without a high risk of getting beaned by a truck.
I felt like an idiot, like someone who accidentally trespassed because he's too dumb to notice the "DO NOT ENTER" signs. Eventually I trudged back to the car and sat in it until it finished charging and then drove to the deli.
One of the main reasons that the American built environment is so unattractive to humans is that it is not built for humans - it is built for cars.
The consequences of this design mistake go deeper than the aesthetic experience of our built environment. When we build for cars, we sprawl out into the countryside. We pave over wilderness and farmland. We build isolated little fortresses for ourselves that contribute to social isolation and psychological dysfunctions. Our infrastructure swells up to adapt to the massive scale of humanity and the per-capita resource demand skyrockets.
This is not a new or even controversial idea. I've been reading about it since I was a teen (Jane Jacobs, Alex Steffen, Christopher Alexander, Richard Register, the list goes on). But the experience of driving across the country in a car and at a pace that requires me to stop in the middle of the American built environment really drove it home for me.
The more cars we have, the worse our cities become.
A world filled with electric vehicles may have cleaner air and less carbon dumping into the atmosphere, but is still a world of massive highways, socially isolating suburban sprawl, and unacceptably high resource consumption.
Cars and trucks are here to stay on this planet, at least a until we come up with Star Trek transporters and beam ourselves wherever we want. Switching our vehicle fleets from internal combustion to electric motors is something we must do, as quickly as possible, for a huge number of reasons. The fact that Tesla is making awesome, functional electric cars is a huge win for everyone.
If we swapped every single fossil-fuel-burning car on Earth with an electric car tomorrow, we'd all still be living on a doomed and ugly planet. It is not enough to phase out the fossil fuel car; we must also phase out the practice of building ugly places to live that are centered around the idea of everyone driving everywhere for anything.
I think that we can build cities, towns, and a society that isn't so dependent on cars, and that is beautiful, inspiring, healthy, and sustainable. This notion happens to be the philosophical underpinning to my career (along with a huge rising tide of people, including most of my friends and colleagues). I'm still very much trying to figure out how to help build the world I want to live in, but an idea that I keep coming back to is that we lack inspiring visions and stories of what it is that we want.
A lot of incredible work has been done constructing critiques of what we've got. Sprawl is bad. Burning all the fossil fuels remaining will kill us all. Capitalism is looking pretty iffy. Industrialization has some major flaws. Autocentrism is a mistake. Sitting at our desks is killing us. The list goes on.
So there are a lot of people out there who are going "Okay, I got this huge list of stuff I shouldn't do. Um. So what should I be doing?"
Our "you should do this instead" list sucks. It's too short, vague, and uninspiring. ("Ride a bike? Wear hemp shirts?")
You can't build something you can't imagine. You're not going to abandon the old system until you have a firm vision of a new system that is way better.
No one stopped using VHS tapes just because they sucked. They stopped using VHS because DVD's came along and they were obviously superior.
I think we need to come up with a vision for a world that is obviously superior than the one we have now. I think that vision needs to be very clear, massively compelling, and exciting.
I believe in this seriously enough that I am making a major adjustment to my career this February to pursue it. I am going to focus exclusively on making visualizations of a better built environment. I have some big plans for this line of work and I'm very excited about it.
If you're interested in reading updates on that journey, I'm going to be blogging at www.tylerjdisney.com/blog.
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Thanks for following along on my little road trip.