Times Have Changed: The Automobile, Social Values and Dating

Have you ever looked closely at historic images of cities, say from the 1930’s? The social atmosphere is very different. The fronts of buildings were positioned close to the sidewalk, families lived close to the center of town with a place to sit outside to greet the passersby, and the traffic was chiefly pedestrian. As a result, dating has drastically been affected by modern changes in the past 50 years.

The pedestrian and social enemy, the automobile: Since the invention of the automobile, designers and builders had to make space for parking. Well, this was a challenge at best as each automobile requires around one hundred square feet. A person requires approximately four square feet of space. Vehicular lanes had to be accommodated, restricting space for pedestrians, and adding vehicular and pedestrian conflict. Moreover, the vehicle is now regarded as the most important component of our transportation infrastructure with regard to safety and efficiency. What does this do to our social space? After the engineers design a street, and the builders accommodate the parking at the front of the buildings, the once social space turns into dead, vehicular only, depressing places. Imagine walking next to the parking lot of a shopping mall, next to a six lane arterial highway. Not much chance that you will find another pedestrian with which to rub shoulders. Conversely, a historic place such as Boston, is packed with life, and very little suburbs. In suburbia, the place to find your next date, the Circle K convenience store.

Prior to the proliferation of the automobile, people met on the streets. Pedestrians filled the streets with life that we can easily imagine, and is demonstrated in most historic cities around the world. In the historic town of Ybor City in Tampa, an old Cuban cigar manufacturing city, the workers had little houses called “casitas” which exhibited high ceilings, raised floor for air convection, and a quaint and approachable front porch. Every Saturday, the family would walk to the center of town to meet the neighbors, rub shoulders with others, and do the weekly shopping. Vehicles were not necessary, neither were large houses. The outside public spaces served as an extension of the interior space of their homes. This experience is still shared in many towns in Europe.

How are we easily able to meet new people during these modern times of suburbs, proliferation of the automobile, and a new understanding of an internal world. Computers and cell phones have been the crutch for the absence of social places. It would be nice to revive the values we once had, on the safe pedestrian filled streets and plazas.