This blog explores the history of Phoenix, Arizona and a little bit of Los Angeles and San Francisco, California. This blog is not supported by advertising, it's supported by the generosity of my patrons on Patreon. Thank you!

Car scale vs. human scale in Phoenix, Arizona


I live in suburban Phoenix, in a neighborhood built in the 1980s designed around cars. Yes, there are sidewalks, but they're an afterthought. I've seen people try to walk on them, and they just look kinda sad. I see children walking, and riding bikes, even people in wheelchairs in my neighborhood but it just looks like they're hugging the edge of a freeway. This is a car neighborhood. But Phoenix is about to change - cars are on their way out, much to the dismay of the old-timers.

Like a lot of men my age, I have a fascination with cars. I describe my life based on the cars I've owned. I've spent a lot of time driving them, a lot of money repairing them. I read Road & Track and Car & Driver. In fact, I bought the house that I'm in mostly because I wanted a garage for my car. Like most of the houses around here, the garage is the most prominent feature. There's a driveway, a garage door, and back there, somewhere, is a house. There's no front porch, and just a bare minimum of front yard. I remember the first time I saw this house and how thrilled I was to have a place for my car.

The first time that I noticed "car scale" as opposed to "human scale" was while I was on a business trip in Southern California. It was some modern 1980s building, I don't remember exactly where, and I excused myself from a meeting to walk over to the McDonald's that I saw across the street. When I walked out of the building, there was nowhere for humans, just a driveway. When I got across the street there was a wall where I wanted to walk. I looked over and saw that the driveway to the entrance was a few hundred feet away, so I climbed over the wall, because the building was just a few feet away from me. Yes, in my dress clothes. I remember feeling so stupid. But it wasn't me that it was stupid, it was the design that was stupid - and ignorant that people are human-sized.

And since then I've watched people struggle with dealing with "car scale", especially in Phoenix. Inside of a car, people are fine. If they can be dropped off in front of a building, it's wonderful. If they need to, or want to, walk, they have to look out for trucks backing towards them, for cars that can't see them.

Cars and people walking don't mix. I've seen people with children walking behind cars that are backing up in parking lots. This isn't an accident waiting to happen, this is an inevitable waiting to happen. We don't need more careful pedestrians, or more alert drivers, we need better design. Human scale.


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