It is astonishing how car-dependent American culture is. I bet we all heard this before, knew it from lectures at schools, etc. but you can never realize the extent of it, till you feel it.

In this paradigm, you cannot possibly get more European than I am. I DO NOT have a car and I do not intend to buy one. I WALK across campus or, at most, ride a bike. I live ACROSS THE ROAD (highway) from my department and at a 10 min walking distance away from what we here call “The Downtown” (a junction in the middle of the town, in fact with bars on four corners). If I need to go outside town I’ll use PUBLIC TRANSPORT (wow!).

The majority of people drives to work/school/grocery. Being a town of around 40,000 people Blacksburg suffers from traffic jams (!).

The most amazing effect this has on planning that I have seen, are the clusters of autonomous supermarkets, laced by roads and without any opportunity for pedestrian traffic at all. Being on one side of the road I cannot cross to the other. I see the shop – it’s right there, across the road! – but the road is some 10-12 lanes (!) across and there is NO way I can cross it. This implies that if you don’t have a car and get caught up on one side of the road, you will die of hunger – you simply will not be able to reach the shop on the other side! Needless to say, at night these “supermarket-towns” become dimply lit, silent ghost towns.

Supermarket-towns can exist anywhere. They are geographically unrelated to nothing – neither terrain, nor residential complexes, nor businesses. They just are there. They exist by themselves and their strength is in numbers – the more shops in a cluster – the better. A delirious drive-in world.

If you drive in Europe and see a cluster of supermarkets along the way you know they must signify the outskirts of a town. You know, that behind the “belt of supermarkets” there will be a belt of suburbs, followed consequently by other belts, usually growing in density and culminating in the Downtown. In the US, however, if you see a cluster of supermarkets it means nothing. You ride through it, wondering what town you’re in, but after a short while you realize that there is no town… Those are simply supermarkets. And that’s it.

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