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The Future of Transportation
Will the auto and airplane reign supreme?
By Alex Marshall
With the fall of the Soviet Union at the end of the 1980s, the political scientist Francis Fukiyama caused a sensation with an essay called “The End of History?” It postulated that, with the relative collapse of Communism, the struggle among rival political systems had ended with a permanent victory for liberal, democratic capitalism. All that was left to do was to refine it.
Is something similar happening with the way we get around? Have we reached “the End of History” with transportation? Will the current system of automobile and airplane travel reign supreme’for now and for centuries hence? Or will something new come along to remake our world, as it has in the past?
Written in 1995
by Alex Marshall
When the computerized letter sorter at the central post office in Washington, D.C., can’t read the handwriting on an envelope, it flips it into a slot where a live person can look at it.
A person in Greensboro, North Carolina. There, the worker sees an image of the letter on a small computer screen, reads the address, and types it into the computer. Back in Washington, a printer spits out a thin black bar code across the bottom of the envelope-which routes the letter to its destination.
The facility in Greensboro is one of the remote encoding centers that the Post Office is setting up around the country. In these facilities, rows of workers will help computers in other parts of the country route letters.
By Alex Marshall
For The Virginian-Pilot
SUFFOLK — This handsome new courthouse of brick and stone that sits on Main Street is one answer to the question: how do we revive this city’s downtown?
Is it the right answer? This city’s center, with two-hundred years of history, was once a bustling place. Now, like Norfolk’s Granby Street and Portsmouth’s High Street, it has declined. All of these city’s main streets are shadows of their former selves, even though there are signs of life on all of them in the form of new businesses amid the vacant storefronts.
BY ALEX MARSHALL
METROPOLIS MAGAZINE, May 2001
The tip of Florida’s panhandle hangs out over the waters of the Gulf of Mexico like ripe fruit on a low-hanging branch, easy pickings. This skinny, 100-mile strip sits directly below Alabama, almost walling it off from the sea. Located in a different time zone, an hour behind the rest of the state, the panhandle has long been popular with vacationers. Nestled in the bosom of the old Confederacy, families from Alabama, Georgia and Louisiana have flocked to the small beach towns here, giving the coast the moniker of “The Redneck Riviera.” With its aqua-green waters and pure white sand, it probably rivals the real Riviera in natural beauty, if not in movie stars.
An Anachronism Finds Its Way
[Excerpt From Chapter Five]
The Star restaurant it was called. It sold “Chops, Steaks and Seafood.” It was the kind of small Greek coffee shop that used to abound in Manhattan, but has been dwindling even there. Here, it stood out as a leftover from a bygone world.
The shop sat on Thirty-seventh Avenue, the principal shopping street of Jackson Heights. The street was a swirl of color and activity. Colombians on their way to Ecuadorean restaurants to eat yucca or ropa vieja. Koreans and other Asians came out of small stores selling herbs and spices. Indian women walked by wearing scarfs and other components of traditional dress. The street was a river of life, bustling with people and commerce.
[Excerpt From Chapter Three ]
Urbanism and Underwear
Anne (not her real name) had worked at the small used bookstore in Menlo Park since 1967. During this time, she watched the downtown change around her. It used to be a place where the city’s politicians came to meet, a place where the average person came to buy a television, some furniture, or some shampoo. Downtown was the area’s commercial, political, and economic center. Then, hard times hit. The furniture and appliance stores closed or moved out to the malls. McDonald’s out on the highway replaced the everyday restaurants on Main Street.
[Excerpt From Chapter Two]
The Nature of Place
Before the car, or more particularly before the highway, the essential challenge of cities was to keep everything from being in the same place. The city was centripetal. Like a black hole, the nature of a city or town was to suck everything to one point. People needed to be near the railroad, the port, the factory to get to their jobs, and factories needed to be near the people and transportation links. This was why reformers championed public parks. Called the lungs of the cities, they were spots of greenery in the tightly packed clumps of buildings and streets. And it took real community effort to put them there. Valuable and scarce land, which could have been converted into homes and businesses, had to be set aside by the public. The tendency of the pre-automobile city to suck people to specific points only intensified with the transportation advances of the nineteenth century, which drew people, machinery, businesses, and money toward the subway stop, the streetcar stop, the railroad terminal.