Layers of Human Experience

I have heard the term “layers of human experience” used a few times recently. I’ve actually heard it mostly from Gordon Price. He talked about it on his talk at Creative Mornings in July. He also used it during the recent Viaducts Heritage Walk put on by the Vancouver Heritage Foundation.

Gordon mentioned that when a building or structure has been around long enough that “layers of human experience” start to build up. Even post-modern highway infrastructure like the Georgia and Dunsmuir Viaducts have their “charm” and place in human hearts. Their presence becomes a part of our mental maps. Their absence would leave a hole. Memories of these places inject our human experience into the history of the place.

My thought today is that these same “layers of human experience” have built around our own personal cars and automobiles in general. Certainly, car commercials appeal to the human desires for speed, space, and freedom. The automobile itself has been around for well over half a century. Generations in North America have grown up in a world dominated by the car. It is literally a part of our human existence in this time, age, and part of the world. The automobile has certainly accumulated massive layers of human experience around itself.

Many will recall happy memories of road trips in the family car. Some will clearly remember their first date using dad’s car. Or maybe some remember how they scrimped and saved in order to reward themselves with their first car. There are lot of memories and emotion locked into our cars.

Perhaps these layers of human experience on our vehicles explain the often visceral and vehement reaction to anything that opposes personal vehicle use – bike lanes, lane closures, traffic diversions, and congestion. These infrastructure changes often induce massive emotional reactions.

New urban planning is taking away road space slowly and surely. We cannot really afford to continue to support a car-centric infrastructure that will continue to cost us millions, or even billions, in road funding, health care costs and ultimately climate change costs. However, we need to understand that we have all grown up with the car and have developed our own layers of personal experience around our cars. How we come to terms with our personal experiences with our cars will determine the direction of our cities and homes. A collection of million individual decisions can and will influence what we do with our most beloved automobiles.

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