San José Woman

San José, California, from the air

San José, California – pure sprawl

I found myself at a conference in San José, California, in 1991, when I learned of a local working mother who lost her driving licence, and thus all her mobility, after diagnosis of an otherwise minor complaint.

One minute, she had been an ordinary single mum laying into the washing, with her eye on the clock for the school pick-up; the next, she was on the floor looking up into the face of a worried paramedic neighbour. It was a very mild form of epilepsy that had matured. She might expect similar blackouts perhaps just once a year. But that was more than enough to lose her licence. Instantly, she had been deprived of the ability to get to work, to collect her children from school, to do her shopping, or to reach any amenity.

I slowly began to wonder about the lifestyle of all the others with minor but disqualifying infirmities who, prior to the car, would have been indistinguishable, leading full and normal lives.  I thought also of the young, who are denied any independent mobility until full grown.  I began to ponder what they lose along the way.

The right to use a car has been celebrated to such a degree that the right not to has been utterly destroyed.