Jan
27
2009
0

Panama City

Having made it to the metropolis of Panama City, I feel much better. I think it’s because of the anonymity – in a large city, I don’t stand out, so I don’t get stared at (much). Plus, the diversity – of shops, restaurants, people, things to do..

The city is fairly spread out, so I’ve been doing a lot of walking. I prefer that to haggling with taxi drivers all day who end up trying to upsell you to take a tour or something. There are poor slums and rich neighborhoods. The latter remind me a bit of São Paulo, the way restaurants and shops are integrated into residential blocks. Jeremiah is always (rightly so) going on about the importance of this kind of zoning.

As I walk through these smog-filled traffic jams, I’ve also been thinking what a wonderful world we would live in if the internal combustion engine had never been invented. Or, let’s just say the automobile. Imagine.. if fields and forests had never been paved over with asphalt. Looking at old European cities that were built before cars existed is one example – everything is within walking distance. But one can imagine more contemporary designs. I’m thinking of modern, clean transportation like mag-lev and segways. I always think of Dean Kamen’s manifesto when he introduced the Segway – pointing out that cars are complete overkill for the short distances they’re mostly used for – for getting around the 2-10km range, why not use something smaller and easier? No need to get in those dreadful machines that spit out heat and exhaust and make us so crazy we lean on the horn incessantly. For one thing, millions fewer people would be maimed and killed if we got rid of the damn things.

What if cities were designed for humans, instead of for cars? What if there were grass paths to walk along, and moving sidewalks and outdoor escalators for steep hills (see Hong Kong). What if they weren’t concrete and asphalt wastelands, but instead beautifully landscaped communities we wouldn’t want to escape from, thereby decreasing our need for cars even further? What if there were no need for interstates  and truck stops and mechanics and parking lots and gas stations and all their attendant ugliness and waste of natural resources, but instead massive large-scale public transportation (like mag-lev trains) that were clean, efficient, and pleasant to ride?

It’s sad to me that most of us simply accept the status quo and don’t envision, let alone strive, for an radically different (better) world that could so easily be ours. In the end I suppose it comes down to money, greed, and those other nasty human traits.
It’s nice to fantasize, anyway. But back to our regularly scheduled program…

continue reading the rest of this post (and view the photos)…

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