Tuesday, January 02, 2007

Route 66, here we come!

The other day a group of us curmudgeons were lamenting the fact that today's pimply grocery clerks can't mentally figure out the change, and are left helpless when the power goes out. The old standard argument came up about how electronic calculators have weakened our maths skills.

I realized that a similar type of malady has afflicted me, as I have become overly dependent on a different electronic gizmo - the GPS navigation in my car. What should be a basic skill, finding one's way from place to place, is left to a device that has many more ways to fail than one's memory. Many cars are now coming with this option available, and there are many portable units available to install in older cars. More and more people are probably losing their ability to navigate, and becoming dependent on these little devices.

However, in using this amazing technology, I have also come to realize a wonderful benefit. In suggesting several choices of routes to take, it is letting me explore routes I never would have driven on my own, including some beautiful small back-country roads. That made me think that perhaps this GPS nav technology will begin to revive some of the small towns that the interstate system killed off in the late 1950's. Location near a main highway will not be such a necessity for businesses like hospitality, where being 'away from it all' is in fact a plus. Finding any location, business or otherwise, will become much easier.

There has been a lot of discussion in urban planning circles about whether repeated cul-de-sac patterns are more conducive to 'neighbourliness' than strict grid patterns. The premise is that more complex and confusing street patterns discourage traffic flow (enhancing safety for children), and make it harder for criminals to 'case' houses for burglary. The GPS technology of course defeats the non-connectedness of the streets.

In fact, the rise of this technology may also mean that many short-cuts once known only to the locals will be more used, and that many now-quiet streets might carry more traffic. I also wonder whether this new 'accessibility' that GPS nav gives will affect the very design of our cities and their suburbs. It may well also open up areas to developers that until now had been too out of the way for consideration.

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