Tuesday, August 31, 2010

China's Traffic Jam as a Linear City

Just a few days ago the epic 100km traffic jam in China disappeared overnight, but before that it seems as though a small economy had sprung up around the traffic jam to serve the thousands of people caught inside the newly created linear city.

The Globe and Mail reported that nearby villagers were selling noodles and boxed lunches to those in the traffic jam, and that "Drivers caught in the gridlock have reportedly been passing the time by playing cards, sleeping and walking between cars."

How strange though that a temporary (one would hope) almost nomadic in nature linear city with its own food economy and social circles can spring up over a period of ten days on a hot stretch of highway turned parking lot. You can get to know someone pretty well in ten days, so did drivers make friends with their neighbours? Perhaps exchanging real-world addresses so that when the jam finally cleared and their temporary city disintegrated they could keep in touch?

And what if the traffic jam hadn't cleared when it did? I suppose the first signs of traffic jam economics was the villagers selling noodles and lunch boxes, but soon bigger entrepreneurs would move into the area with mobile showers, restaurants, bars and maybe even a nightclub. If the traffic jam had gotten large enough and been there for a long enough time perhaps even a politician would have been assigned to the new "riding" giving a voice for those in what would be called Linear City or Trafficopolis. Eventually the government could build a school or other urban amenities nearby to serve this new population. And then maybe, when the traffic finally cleared, some residents would decide to stay in their newfound home.

This also happens (albeit in a much smaller scale) when people are stuck in their cars waiting in line-ups for a ferry or to get across the border. Growing up in Vancouver with family on Vancouver Island, there were many times when we would be sitting in a vast parking lot of cars waiting to get on the ferry to take us to Victoria. There were shops and a playground nearby as well as a restaurant, cafe, and several washrooms. People walked their dogs, talked to their new neighbours, brought out a frisbee or football -- and then it all disappeared when the ferry loaded and everyone went back to being strangers in their cars.

So, this traffic jam did something else besides reveal the horror that can be a country choked to capacity with vehicular traffic. It revealed how humans can turn a non-place like a highway into something social in just a few days time. All it takes is for everyone to slow down a bit.

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