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May 21, 1974 - Image 5

Resource type:
Text
Publication:
Michigan Daily, 1974-05-21

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Tuesday, May 21, 1974
Energy Crisis examined:
Notes from the Continent

By PAUL O'DONNELL
SHORTAGE OF petro-
leum and other fuel pro-
ducts, and the resulting "across
the board" price rises, that
have occurred and still occur in
Europe and most of the Western
world, have had some unexpect-
ed positive results. When people
in France, where gas was al-
ready selling for over 90 cents
before the October Arab-Israeli
war, were buying it for $1.35 a
gallon in January, 1974, is be-
came evident that Europe would.
suffer more from the power
crisis than the U. S. would.
While Americans were still driv-
ing their six-or-eight cylinder
"made-in-U.S.A." specials des-
pite the price rise and the gas
lines, many European coun-
tries, where the average car has
two, four, or at most six cylin-
ders, were prohibiting automo-
bile usage on Sundays in an at-
temot to conserve fuel.
Although the Sunday - driving
ban caused anger and conster-
nation in the affected countries,
some statistics showed that the
results of this prohibition were-
n't all unfavorable. In Italy, for
example, there was evidence
that during the "no-driving"
Sundays, a decline was register-
ed in:
* Atmospheric pollution,
* Noise,
" Accidents and Injuries,
" and even crime.
ONE MIGHT SUPPOSE that
the Italians, the Dutch, the
Germans, and to a smaller ex-
tent, the Americans, were oc-
casionally obliged by the En-
ergy Crisis to walk or ride bi-
cycles instead of drive. Back in
America, certain individualists
were quoted as saying- "I'm
gonna show those Arabs . . .",
and took their revenge by driv-
ing their oversize cars despite
the price increase. Other Yan-
kees, emulating Hitler, criticiz-
ed America's support of Israel
by displaying bumper - stickers
which read "BURN JEWS; NOT
GAS."
Meanwhile, bicycle sales, and
even tennis-shoe sales (with the
help of "streaking"), continue
to be on the rise. The Arabs, few
of whom had read "The Green-
ing of America," were accom-
plishing what many members of
the counter - culture had pro-
posed long ago; reversion back
to simpler and healthier means
of transportation.
It would be misleading and un-
fair to dwell upon the unexpect-
ed positive effects of the power
crisis, for its unfavorable con-
sequences were multifarious.
Great Britain was perhaps the
European country hardest hit by
the energy crisis: "Newsweek,"
in its "Britain's New Dark Age"
edition, talked of three-day work
weeks, hundreds of thousands of
Britons jobless, and pay cuts of
up to 40 per cent for many
workers. British workers were-

n't the only ones jobless during
the crisis; their American
counterparts, especially the au-
toworkers, were also queueing
up for unemsployment compen-
sation.
ONE OF THE most frustrat-
ing realities of this economic
crisis is that the problems of
shortages and unemployment
didn't affect the citizenry in
Britain, or anywhere, equally.
While unemployment lines
lengthened in Britain, the Lon-
don elite flaunted its wealth by
driving luxury cars and spend-
ing lavishly. "Newsweek" re-
ports, "There are more Rolls
Royes on the streets of London
today than anyone can remem-
ber," and that . . . an unpre-
cedented orgy of Christmas
shopping in London's West End
shops" served to underscore
"the financial gulf between the
haves and have-nots."
Although few members of the
American and European middle
and lower classes escaped the
squeeze, there were many ob-
servers in the U. S. who main-
tained that the Energy Crisis
was "a hoax to push up oil pric-
es and take the public's mind off
Watergate." Whether the crisis
was real or not, I would be dis-
honest to neglect mentioning
that I felt few of the direct ef-
fects of the power crisis. By
living in a warm Mediterranean
climate where many do without
heating throughout the winter,
and by using a bicycle and the
electric-run subway system as
my main means of transporta-
tion, I managed to avoid a di-
rect confrontation with the cris-
is. It wasn't until the city bus
prices rose from 9 to 11 cents
that I began to feel the squeeze;
later on came "the sky's the
limit" price increases by many
shop owners who used the crisis
as an excuse to increase pro-
fits.
ONE CAN, HOWEVER, still
eat a three-course meal in Bar-
celona for about 90 cents, and
the subway is still about seven
cents a ride.
Which brings me to the point
of this article: the positive ef-
fects which the power crisis
could have provoked in Ameri-
ca. In my opinion, there is a di-
rect correlation between the ef-
fectiveness of public transport
and the quality of urban exist-
ence. An increased usage of bi-
cycles, subways, trains, and
buses would reduce air pollu-
tion, poise, individual transport
costs, traffic jams, and numer-
ous other auto-related problems,
and would encourage people to
live in the city rather than flee-
ing to the suburbs. Although the
auto industry and related corp-
orations have provided millions
of jobs, automobiles are in large
part responsible for the declin-
ing quality of life in the big
city.

The degradation of the Ameri-
can city, the flight to the sub-
urbs, and the decline of proper-
ty values in many urban centers
are all well documented facts;
Detroit automobile. nabobs
earned their money in the city
of Detroit, but at night escape to
the opulent suburbs, leaving the
nocturnal city to decay. The au-
tomobile industry's effort to de-
feat projects for subways and
other means of non-auto trans-
portation are also public knowl-
edge, as are its results: with
poor mass transit, one is almost
obliged to purchase a car, end
there are thereform few advan-
tages to living near one's work,
in the city.
The circle -is completed by the
construction of parking lots and
expressways, which further de-
stroy city tax base, make the
living conditions near the high-
way unpleasant, and facilitate
the flight to the suburbs. With
the money in the suburbs, the
educational quality, police pro-
tection, public service, etc., all
suffer, and the suburbs become
all the more inviting.
IS THERE ANY SOLUTION
TO THIS VICIOUS CIRCLE OF
URBAN DESTRUCTION?
Living in Barcelona has made
me somewhat more hopeful
about the possibilities of big-
city existence. An international
port, with a population almost
equal in number to that of De-
troit, and a demographic density
comparable to that of Calcutta
or Tokyo, Barcelona has all the
problems of an American big
city, and some special ones of
itsown. Solutions to urban tran-
sit problems are hindered by
certain geographical realities;
as one Barcelona urbanist told
me, Barcelona is "encajonada"
(boxed-in) by the sea on one
side, the mountains on the in-
land side, and by two rivers on
the north and south. Despite
these problems, and the fact
that the city is built on a slant,
the subway system is slowly be-
ing expanded, and urbaniots and
"Friends of the City" are con-
tinuously seeking solutions to
Barcelona's problems.

Although served by the regu-
lar Spanish National Railways
(RENFE), end by two different
subway systems, Barcelona's
mass transit system is still far
from sufficient. Despite the
problems of making historical
Barcelona compatible with In-
dustrial, modern Barcelona,
this Mediterranean city has
managed to avoid the kind of
urban-jungle life that American
cities have become famous for.
Downtown Barcelona is still
picturesque, and anyone who
has walked through the Gothic
Quarter of Barcelona during the
"pedestrians-only" hours of the
day realizes that life in the big
city needn't be unpleasant or
tense. The fact that modern ci-
ties are built for cars, not for

people, is one of the dehuman-
izing factors of urban life.
When Nixon finally declared
that the "Fuel Crisis is Over,"
some sighed with relief; other
observers, such as Ralph Nader,
questioned the very existence of
a power crisis; and some of us
thought that the crisis perhaps
didn't last long enough. If pow-
er shortages, real or phony, had
forced the American govern-
ment to create the kind of inter-
national, national, Ind urban
transport systems that I have
observed in European countries,
then the power crisis could have
had long range beneficial re-
sults in America.
Paul O'Donnell is the Euro-
pean correspondent for T h e
Daily.

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