Convenient Access by Car
While early industrialists had grand visions of mechanized buildings and cities that walked, many of those ideas were whimsical at face value. Mind you, when applied as small parts, they were very useful – like the passenger elevator. One of those side concepts probably came to be applied to personal transportation – the automobile – which I argue is a highly popular form of architecture. Unfortunately, it’s a half baked idea of the original concept, and a half baked idea that has turned tables on traditional architectural and urban planning principles.
What got me going on this topic was a recent assertion that the original El Rancho Hotel in Las Vegas was planned specifically to be only accessible by car, not on foot. At the time, the Las Vegas Strip had some seemingly seedy elements to it. The thought was to start a brand new “strip” away from the original Strip. The new Strip would be elegant and – controlled. It was a specific tourist destination. To keep the new hotel a “controlled” atmosphere, the easiest way to do this was to limit the patrons only to those who had cars. It mitigated the seedy element.
At this point, one can easily imagine the sorts of gated subdivisions and target market power centres that populate suburbia. All too often, getting from one’s house to do shopping, go to work or school, or even to go to a neighbour’s house is virtually impossible on foot in a cul-de-sac’d subdivision. It’s all designed to be accessible by car only, leading to all sorts of social / economic ills. Maybe even obesity.
Back to Las Vegas – the new Strip grew. Eventually, it became larger than the original strip, all of the new hotels modeled after this “accessible by car” concept. Robert Venturi even wrote a book “Learning from Las Vegas” that looked at the intricacies of this new type of planning and the sort of spaces that just happened around the hotels. I thought that it was written tongue in cheek, but apparently he was serious.
Since then, Las Vegas has built sidewalks up and down the new Strip, and offered transit service along the road. The scale of the street is still built around automobile speeds, rather than pedestrian travel. Now, the automobile scale can be exciting in a way – think of Dan Tana driving up and down the strip in his classic Thunderbird.
West of Chicago, along Roosevelt Road – it has a highway designation, though I can’t recall the number – there is an endless suburb that stretches some twenty miles or so – so mind numbing that I can’t even convert the distance to metric measures. My daughter refers to it as the “Land of Parking Lots”.
“they paved paradise, and put up a parking lot….”
Written by Darrel G. Babuk, Architect AAA, NCARB, MRAIC