Thursday, June 10, 2010

U.S. youth less car-crazy than their elders?

Something is changing in America. People aren't driving as much – even taking into account that the recession and unemployment reduces commuting. Several people, including a writer for Ad Age magazine, have noticed a dip in the rates at which young people are getting driver's licenses.

Jack Neff, writing in the May 31, says, "The automobile, once a rite of passage for American youth, is becoming less relevant to a growing number of people under 30." His piece shows the stats that back up that thesis.

Similarly, Nate Silver, writing in the May 6 Esquire, opens his piece this way: "This is surely one of the signs of the apocalypse: Americans aren't driving as much as they used to."

And the ubiquitous Richard Florida, writing at, points to Neff and Silver's articles and ponders whether his predicted "great reset" is taking place. This view dovetails nicely with Florida's new book, "The Great Reset." He's been writing about "resets" for the Atlantic for some time now.

If you read the pieces it's hard not to think they're onto something. AdAge, especially, is known more for pointing to consumer trends than for worrying about issues such as the fiscal and environmental irresponsibility of suburban sprawl.

But here's another sign that something truly is changing. Automakers *#8211; who have nothing if not a history of extraordinarily effecting ad campaigns – are changing the backdrops on their ads, using more sexy urban scenes and fewer beautiful wilderness scenes. Catherine Lutz and Anne Lutz Fernandez point this out in a June 3 Huffington Post piece, From Upstream to Downtown: Car Ads Head to the City. The two are authors of the book "Carjacked: The Culture of the Automobile and its Effect on Our Lives." In the HuffPost piece, they write, "Just when some of us have decided we want to live in places where we don't have to be quite so dependent on the automobile, the automobile is trying to follow us there."

If you're interested in more about "Carjacked" – a book I recommend as one that looks at the world in ways you probably hadn't thought of before – here's a Q/A I did with Fernandez for


Bravo Mike Sierra said...

You know, Sam. You make fun Harvard's liberal education, but that institution has produced many of the very lawyers, doctors, and MBA's that have led Wall Street banks, big corporations, and healthcare costs down the endless, non-liberal road of devastating America.

Anonymous said...

A few thoughts:

- Every day brings countless signs that the apocolypse is upon us. Admitting Richard Florida might be right? Now THAT is the end of civilization as I know it.

- Since you mentioned car ads, I'll go ahead and say that I loved the Joe Isuzu ads of the '80s, and I enjoy the Ford truck ads out now with Dennis Leary narrating. I ABSOLUTELY DESPISE, WITH EVERY FIBER OF MY BEING, EVERY OTHER CAR COMMERCIAL EVER MADE!!!!!!!!!!!!! Gawd, those things are awful, and insulting. Any ad that thinks it's necessary to scream at me is an ad that must be ignored. I'd give my left leg to reduce the number of car commercials by 90%.

- These researchers may be on to something, but life isn't going to change much in Charlotte as long as we continue to build a mass transit system in 5-mile increments over a 50-year period.

Bravo Mike Sierra said...

My apologies for adding to the commentary derailment, Mary, I will now say something on-topic partially constructive from the mind of this youth "brainwashed" by our "liberal" university system.

I grew up in suburbia, and I really didn't think anything of it until I experienced first-hand some of the great cities of the world. Where I grew up (Raleigh), suburbia was the place to be, because there was nothing to do downtown. And my view of cities was marred by my experience growing up there.

However, since then, I've had the opportunity to spend time in some major cities and realized how wonderful it is and how much more time and freedom you have when you are within walking distance of everything you need to live, work, and play. You see and hear other human beings and bump into them, it is a true feeling of community and society that I never had growing up in a cul-de-sac neighborhood where, although kids lived there they often weren't your friends from school who lived in another cul-de-sac neighborhood a 10 minute drive away. And of course, no one plays outside anymore, what with the lack of ball fields and sidewalks in suburbia.

The overriding factor, though, I would have to imagine, is the ubiquitous television media we have now. Every kid in America grows up watching sitcoms and reality shows that take place in major cities. For the modern youth major cities are where the fun and drama is, where the high fashion lifestyle is, where you can hang out with your friends at a sidewalk cafe and text each other about what club you're going to tonight. (or whatever).

Big cities are hot! They are where the action is again. Even lil ole Raleigh has turned things around in its urban core. Since before history, we have been societal animals, gathering in groups for the benefits of interdependency. What happened to shunning rogue, independent, anti-social behavior? The automobile has certainly played a part in increasing anti-social, independent behavior in American youth and it has been to our great detriment.

I live in Uptown Charlotte now where I can walk a block to the Harris Teeter and a couple more to just about anything I'd want to do for leisure. Since moving here I've averaged 1500 miles a year on my car, down from almost 11,000 per year when I lived in Cary, NC.

I don't have to be a liberally brainwashed youth to know I'm being conservative with my money there!

misswhit said...

Sorry, Bravo, but I must disagree with you somewhat on your view of the suburbs. I'm sitting here watching the neighborhood kids (lots of them) having a good old fashioned end of school party right across the street. Later this evening when I take a walk I'm sure to see them again, playing ball in their yards, riding bikes, or playing kick the can (the current neighborhood favorite). Our suburban neighborhood of about 400 homes is a great place to live, with a real sense of community. When our dog died back in November people brought us meals, for heavens sake! I'm tired of the old "unfriendly suburbs" myth.
That being said I do wish that we our suburban area had developed as a real town, instead of as a series of developments. We do have a town center type shopping center near enough to walk and it's been developed very nicely. And our neighborhood now attends nearby schools, which makes a huge difference to neighborhood cohesiveness from when my kids were in school and being bused away from the area. But I miss the "real" town of my growing up experience. We lived on the outskirts of a big city, which we loved to visit, but we were in an actual town (with another town right next door, and another one after that, etc.). We had a wonderful community experience within that town but had the big city advantages as well. And we probably didn't drive as much as we have to here, since many services were found in the towns and often were within walking distance. As teenagers, of course, we all couldn't wait to drive to school but that driving distance was not very long.
Not everyone wants to live in the big city. There are advantages to both city and suburban living--what a boring world this would be if everyone wanted the same thing.

Bravo Mike Sierra said...

misswhit, what you propose sounds wonderful. My experience, I guess, was with the more sterile kind of suburb, where you knew the people right next door, but no others, the yards were worthlessly small, and school was a 15 minute drive down the highway, and most of the walking I did was through the vast dessert of a big box store parking lot.

I would thoroughly enjoy the slower paced, more personal life of a neighborhood built to resemble a small town in the French countryside. Even if it was smack in the middle of suburbia with one built every square mile.

And yes, most cities are hardly worth living in, but usually because they aren't "livable", i.e., access to amenities. Charlotte is the only one in NC (maybe Asheville too) where you can do this without feeling like a colonial settler in a hostile environment.

We are starting to see more developments that are more "all-inclusive" with a town center and areas for the neighborhood kids to gather and play. But the vast majority of suburbia has yet to catch up. But I want that option!

Anonymous said...

Youth are probably less car crazy for good reason. Cars weren't as expensive back then as they are today. Just buying a car can put most people into debt for a good 10-15 yrs ... Back in the day people with simple tools were able to actually get in and work under the hood and make repairs without having to take it to a special mechanic and get charged about half of what the car cost you. Gas is costing more every year. Since a lot of makers are doing away with stick shift, cars are no longer really fun to drive. There's no connect. I like cars, but you know what I find is that older cars are a lot more fun than all of this new era stuff being sold on the lot.

consultant said...

Gas is about to go up sharply. Auto driving will go down along with a lot of other stuff.

Old pre WWII suburbs are usually pretty good places to live. A tiny few of the new suburbs (subdivisions) have some sense of community. Most, however are zombie pits (helps explain much of contemporary America.

When people look back on the last 35 years or so America, they will call this period the "Dumb and Dumber Period" of American history.

American youth are less car crazy? Wow, powerful insight! We have become a poorer country, one that is about to lose access to affordable oil in all parts of the US.

Timothy Whitson said...

The car of yesterday, is now the wiress phone of today in terms of status

Theo Tiefwald said...

The big problem with cities is that the vast majority of White American urbanites just aren't reproducing themselves. All the kids are being born in suburbia, or in the rural areas. You rarely see any White children in cities unless they are safely ensconced in their private school classrooms.

I had a good laugh a little while back when a journalist called NYC an "An Elephant’s Graveyard for Ovaries" - - he same applies to most other large or semi-large American cities - they are places of genetic death where the future is disregarded in favor of clubbin and the viewing of crap art.

Modern cities in The West are by and large childless pits of decadence and hedonism. Sure, have fun all the fun you want now, but what will that mean for the future? I'll tell you what it means: the massive decline of the USA of this nation as the lower element has the most kids and replaces the higher element of society - this is already happening, and the effects are apparent all around unless you happen to live in your yuppie urban ghetto paying an outrageous rent by 'working' at a worthless paper shuffling job M-F.


Theo Tiefwald said...

"Urban areas, too, were rapidly ceasing to have the character of country-towns and were differentiating themselves as almost purely industrial. The leading industrialists, on their part, had also defeated the countryside. They had destroyed the rural cottage industries and thereby had forced the young and able-bodied country folk to serve their factories. Whether on the land or in factories and mines, the new order was rich men and, completely subservient to them, the proletarians. This was the rural condition which constituted the parentage of 'artificials', and, from the point of view of life-cycles, it was bad." -

consultant said...

Dumb and Dumber, Part II.

When did we become a stupid nation?

What was the starting date?

1957. Start of the Vietnam War?
1968. Election of Richard Nixon?
1970(?). Nixon takes US off gold standard?
@1973. Introduction of MasterCard & Visa?
1974. Start of disco music?
1978. Start of rap music?
1980. Election of Ronald Reagan?
1980. Growth of neoconservatism?
1980's. Growth of designer clothes for the masses?
@1985. Fox News?
1988. Election of the first Bush?
1998. Clinton kills the Glass-Steagel Act?
2000. (Stolen) Election of (oh so stupid) George W. Bush?
@2001. American Idol & "reality" tv shows?
2000-2008. The entire George W. Bush years?
2009. Obama appoints Geithner & Summers to the Treasury Dept.?
1950 to 2007. Suburbia?
1960 to now. The Republican Party?

Vote for your choice(s).