Jane Holtz Kay has always advocated greater perspective in the way cities are developed and the way people go about their daily routines. As much as urban expansion and technology has afforded a more convenient life for many, it has put the environment at risk that there is an undeniable antagonism between modern life and nature (Kay 110). In her book Asphalt Nation, Kay says that these modern activities have “ruptured the human environment in the name of progress” (79). Cars, one of the most iconic symbols of development, have a great impact to this issue.
They affect the environment at all stages of their life, their production needs a significant amount of industrial materials such as steel and other fabricated materials. In their use, they will need fuel, emit pollutants and will need the construction of roads. Even their disposal requires a significant amount of land or processing. Kay points out that these scenarios are unlikely to change and the most prudent thing to do is to minimize current impacts and develop new methods and technologies to alleviate the issue.
The means that Kay wants to address most urgently is the way that roads are constructed, particularly the materials that are being used for their construction. At the same time, she encourages cities to provide opportunities for people to respond to environmental issues. Cities should not just support the development but must also have a conscience about it. If there are more environmentally friendly means of getting to where people need to be, chances are, there will better support for them. Therefore, it is critical for cities to consider themselves as works in progress that endeavor to be pro-development as well as pro-environment.
The challenge of becoming more environmentally responsible is particular challenge for older cities because the original city plans never envisioned the cities we now live in today. For cities like Chicago, ingenuity is necessity in developing environmental practices that will not hamper the cities metropolitan life. One of the advocacies that the city is now pushing for is the development of transportation alternatives that will relieve traffic congestion. In 2006, the city announced a plan to develop a 500-mile network of paths for bicycle that will transverse major areas of the city.
At the same time, the proposal is designed to afford greater safety for bike riders and motorists. The city has historically been effective in developing programs for cyclists. The proposal dubbed as the Bike 2015 Plan is a long term commitment to the development of the bike path systems that are elevated form motor ways and other road features to enhance biking and driving in the city. The main idea is that with the construction of the elevated the bike paths, there will be greater visibility and there will be less conflict among cyclists and motorists. However, the efforts can also have their drawbacks.
Christopher Hagelin, senior research associate from the Center for Urban Transportation Research at the University of South Florida said that, “Based on a description of the Chicago plan, he said the raised lanes might make it harder for bicyclists to merge into the center travel lane to turn left,” (Ahmed-Ullah & Janega para. 33) The proposal has been receive well and has gained the approval of not only bikers or environmental advocate groups but also health advocacies because the proposal can provide opportunity for people to get more exercise and to be outdoors.
The use of bikes is not an idea that is unique to the city: Geneva, Copenhagen, Cambridge have also advocated the measures and have had considerable success in their efforts (para 4-5). Andy Clarke, the executive director of the Washington D. C. -based League of American Bicyclists is among the people who have lauded the city’s efforts and said that this makes Chicago, “the forefront of improving cycling across the country,” (as cited in para. 11). However, city planners also have acknowledged the challenge of the proposal not only in terms of bringing them into being abut also in advocating their use.
Ideologically, there is no denying the value of environmental or health consciousness but in reality, the commitment to these issues are often easily sacrificed for convenience. Efforts like the Bike 2015 Plan provide encouraging indicators that there is greater awareness and active support to these issues. In conclusion, the real challenge in developing more environmentally responsible cities is in challenging expediency and developing social responsibility.