By: Jenna Funkhouser
I just returned from a trip to Asia visiting some good friends who live and work only a few miles outside the city of Jakarta, Indonesia. One day, my husband and I spent over seven hot, frustrating hours trying to simply take a taxi in and out of the city to see a few sights. Although we loved experiencing the culture, eating the delicious food, and meeting such friendly locals, we left saddened by how difficult the transportation system is for those who live there, much less those who visit.
The city of Jakarta is a prime example of a city built around the sovereignty of the automobile. While most other large cities such as Paris, New York, and Hong Kong have a reliable metro system that makes getting around quick and easy, Jakarta went the route of simply building freeways and relying on people’s access to their own cars, motorcycles, or taxis. The result? Literally the worst traffic in the entire world, a sky so full of smog you barely ever see the beautiful mountains only a few kilometers away, and a nearly 10 year decrease in life expectancy.
So why, when our own cities began to form traffic jams on overcrowded roads, do we assume the solution is simply to keep building freeways? This is a dead-end solution that shows how ultimately destructive our reliance on cars for transportation will become. When we assume that driving should be our default mode of transportation, when we don’t stop to consider the needs and options of the less fortunate in our own communities, and when we complain about not enough parking or roads that need to be widened (again), do we realize how short-sighted we have become?
A well-built, walkable, and vibrant city is a beautiful piece of what it means to steward God’s creation.
So let’s not be Jakarta. Or Atlanta. Or Los Angeles. Or any city lacking adequate public transportation. Instead, let’s consider the needs of those in our community who have fewer transportation options–the elderly, the disabled, the minimum wage workers. Let’s consider walking riding the bus, riding our bikes, sharing rides, or taking the train as viable options instead of assuming a car is always necessary. Let’s ask our local government to build roads that are safe and accessible for pedestrians and bikers, create better public transportation systems instead of just building more freeways, and think long-term when it comes to air quality, pollution, and resource management.
This is an extremely practical and urgently needed way to be a good neighbor in our communities, practice wise stewardship of our cities, and demonstrate the love of a God whose desire is for true human flourishing. We can create healthy, beautiful livable cities together that will give future generations something to thank us for, but we have to start now.