Title: Straphanger: Saving Our Cities and Ourselves from the Automobile
Author: Taras Grescoe
Release Date: April 24, 2012
Publisher: Times Books
Genre: Non-Fiction, Travel, Social/Psychological
Rating: 4 out of 5
In his latest book, Taras Grescoe takes on the reputation of public transportation. While it’s conventionally viewed as a dirty last resort, Grescoe argues that a revolution in public transit is approaching. He examines public transportation systems in cities in the US and around the world to see if creating sustainable and affordable transit is an achievable goal.
Straphanger: Saving Our Cities and Ourselves from the Automobile is many different things rolled up into one neat, easy-to-read package. It’s a bit of a memoir, exploring Grescoe’s existence as a car-free human being. It’s a travelogue of sorts, examining different cities, countries, and cultures and how they have reacted to the demands of public transportation. And it’s a study of urban planning and culture, looking closely at the history of public transportation in the United States.
The book is divided up into different chapters, based on the city Grescoe is currently visiting. His adventures in New York City are easy to predict – he delivers the history of one of the most-used public transportation systems in the world. But he also discusses challenges facing the overtaxed system, such as expansion, maintenance, and profitability. But then, Grescoe moves on to a place like Los Angeles, where the idea of public transit is almost laughable. He discusses failed attempts at creating some sort of mass transportation and makes it clear as long as city regulations are too car-friendly (such as mandating parking spaces for every building), public transit will never take off.
Grescoe’s writing is clear and very easy to read. His style is engaging and will make readers want to pay attention and take note of what he is saying. Because the book is divided into many different chapters, each its own case study, it makes it easy to read this book in bits and pieces. Indeed, that may be the best approach, as Grescoe packs a lot of wisdom and information into each of his chapters, and it’s worth reflecting on each before moving to the next.
If you are at all interested in urban culture, Straphanger is a must-read. It’s a fascinating mix of how history, politics, and culture have affected the development of mass transit. While this may seem like a boring subject, Grescoe makes it very interesting. In the end, it may make you rethink your policy on utilizing the public transportation in your own city.