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Oz Blog News Commentary

Urban Jungle

June 24, 2019 - 01:45 -- Admin

Land Rover’s
proposals that we use its SUVs for urban safaris shows how cars have been
licensed to damage our lives.

By George
Monbiot, published in the Guardian 21st June 2019

What is
the best way of wrecking a city? Pour cars into it. Heavy traffic, 50 years of research shows, breaks up community, disrupts social life
and crushes local cultures. Noise drowns out conversation and drives people
indoors. Pollution makes streets inhospitable. Cars take up the space that
might have been used for children to play, adults to meet and local projects to
grow.

Streetlife
is treated as an impediment to traffic. In cities all over the world, it has
been cleared for cars. Stalls, hawkers, football and cricket games, old people
playing dominoes, chess or petanque: all must make way for the car. So much
land is required for driving and parking that there is little left for human
life. In cities like Barcelona, that curb traffic, cars use about 25% of the
urban area. In cities like Houston, which don’t, they use 60%. The car eats the public space that could
otherwise become parks, cycle lanes, markets and playgrounds.

Land
Rover’s new advertisements for its Range Rover Evoque create the opposite impression: that this
ridiculous gas guzzler contributes to urban culture. The Evoque is marketed
as
“the Range Rover
for the city”, which sounds like a contradiction: SUVs like this were
originally designed for dirt roads in the countryside. But now, according to
the agency behind this revolting campaign, we are invited to use it to “explore your city” and create your own “urban adventures”.

One of the
ads features the supermodel Adwoa Aboah driving through Brixton, staring
at the interesting street life as if on a human safari, and talking about its
“amazing soul and rhythm … People here are real”. It gives the impression that
the car is passing through market streets where traffic is prohibited. Why?
Because these are the places with the most “amazing soul and rhythm”.

She also
drives down Brixton Road, one of the most polluted streets in London. All the Range Rover Evoque models
have higher nitrogen oxide emissions than the average for new cars (and much higher CO2 emissions). The Evoque’s
sole contribution to Brixton’s streetlife is likely to consist of accelerating
the deaths of some of the “real” people it passes.

Air
pollution is now believed to kill more people than smoking. Across Europe, it’s estimated to cause the
premature deaths of 800,000 people a year. Every week, cars here kill far more
people than the full toll of the Chernobyl disaster. Air pollution damages
hearts and lungs, causes a wide range of cancers and damages the health of
unborn children. It can radically
reduce intelligence
, as a
result of oxidative stress and neurodegeneration. So along comes Land Rover,
not only promoting a polluting SUV as a city car, but suggesting it should be
used for fun: to kerb-crawl through congested streets gawping at the human zoo.

SUVs are
killing machines: because they are higher and heavier, you are more likely to
die if you are hit by one than if you are struck by an ordinary car. The
fashion for SUVs is one of the two main reasons for rising road deaths among pedestrians (the other is drivers using
mobile phones). They are likely to be especially dangerous if you use them for
human game drives, rather than watching the road.

Another of
the ads urges drivers to “Set off on an adventure. Discover Edinburgh,
one of the UK’s most forward-thinking cities”. A forward-looking city should
ban such cars from its streets. Land Rover’s ad agency promises to roll out
this campaign across the world, naming cities in South Africa, China and Columbia. Wherever
interesting urban cultures persist, a Range Rover will plough through them.
Land Rover, get your filthy wares out of our cities.

These ads
are horribly reminiscent of the commercial Jeep tours through Rio’s favelas.
Residents say the tours make them
feel humiliated and objectified
. The tourists sit behind the car windows, safely removed from the
natives, filming exotic poverty as they are driven past people’s homes.

They also
remind me of Volkswagen’s disgusting advertising last year, which asked: “Looking to boost your school
gate credibility? Our Tiguan has been voted one of the coolest cars for dads on
the school run.” Poisoning children by driving a monster SUV to the school gate
is, in my view, about the least cool thing a parent could do.

These ads
help to normalise antisocial – even pathological – behaviour. Just as we need radically to reduce the use of cars, for
the sake of both human health and planetary survival (the mayor of London,
Sadiq Khan, has
just
announced
a car
free day in September to highlight this need),
the
manufacturers seek to drag us back into the 20th century.

In his
book Unlocking Sustainable Cities, Professor Paul Chatterton argues that controlling
the car is the first and most important step towards creating friendly and
vibrant cities. He points to the work of architects like Jan Gehl, who seek to
reclaim the space now captured by cars, to allow “life between buildings” to flourish.

Neither
electric cars nor driverless cars will solve our problems. They take up as much
space as fossil-powered vehicles. Electric cars are already triggering a series of environmental disasters, due to the rush for lithium, cobalt and nickel required make their
batteries. Driverless cars are likely to exacerbate congestion and accelerate climate breakdown, because of
the energy demands of the data centres required to control them.

It makes
far more sense to build electrified mass transit. But those whose profits
depend on urban carmageddon go to great lengths to thwart it. In the United
States, Americans for Prosperity, a group founded and funded by the Koch Brothers, has set up campaigns to fight new bus and light rail schemes. It
has managed to stop public transport systems in several states. The Kochs have
made much of their vast fortune from oil refining and asphalt production.

Another
planned advertisement for the Evoque, this time in Chicago, crudely defines the
conflict. In Land Rover’s words, “the Evoque will literally climb on top of the covered entrance to a
busy transit station.” The safari theme continues: the new Range Rover poses on
top of the public transport system like a hunter with his foot on a slaughtered
lion.

In A Tale
of Two Cities, Charles Dickens writes of “the fierce patrician custom of hard
driving”. As aristocrats raced heedlessly through the streets of Paris in their
carriages, everyone else had to jump out of the way or perish. Dickens hints
that this barbaric practice was among the many atrocities that helped catalyse
the French Revolution. Today, as cars clear a path through our lives, we need a
new revolt against hard driving. It is time to reclaim the streets for the
people.