This week, it was announced that Detroit has the highest rate of overweight inhabitants of any city in the United States. This is not a pleasant statistic, to be sure, but it's a very meaningful one, and it would behoove the people of Detroit to ask themselves why they're having such trouble keeping the weight off.
Detroit Mayor Kwame Kilpatrick has offered an answer to this mystery, and one that is sure to anger the economic and political establishment in the area. Kilpatrick blames the car culture of the city and its thick belt of suburbs. The Mayor described the problem in gentle terms. "We're not a walking city," he says. That's a politically wise understatement.
It's more accurate to say that Detroit has forgotten how to walk, and made it almost impossible for its inhabitants to walk through its communities, even if they wanted to. Detroit is the Motor City, and its inhabitants have built entire neighborhoods without sidewalks, cities cut into tiny inhabitable slices by crisscrossing highways, intersections where it takes pedestrians 10 minutes just to cross the street, huge sections of roadway where people traveling on foot are prohibited.
It is nearly impossible to get from place to place on foot in the Detroit area. I know. Much of my family lives around Detroit. Many of my ancestors lived in Michigan. I myself lived in a suburb of Detroit for 3 years, some years ago.
Around Detroit, people who are desperate for exercise are forced to pay to gain access to private gyms or purchase their own private equipment to work out on in their basements. Exercising in a hot house filled with pumping music and leotards, or in a basement where dank concrete walls are the greatest amusement, is not usually successful.
But it's not just the reliance on traveling by automobile that contributes to the size of Detroit residents. The car culture there also includes a way of working that consumes people to such an extent that they find it hard to move in their own private time.
The work day in Detroit begins with a commute that usually lasts the better part of an hour. A full day of work in a factory or sterile office involves sitting or standing in place, doing the same thing, over and over again. Another hour is consumed with the commute home, plus shopping time for food that will comfort the dulled mind of the drone. This is the most efficient method of getting work out of people, perfected by the automotive manufacturers, but it leaves workers so emotionally drained that the home becomes a mere rest station. Detroit workers sit still at home in order to soothe themselves from their dull physical inactivity at work.
It's no wonder that the 2nd most overweight city in America is Houston, the nation's second capital for car culture. How can the people of Texas ever hope to use up all the calories that they consume, when gasoline does all the work so much more easily?
Residents of cities such as Detroit and Houston are currently obsessed with new diets that have been created to conform to their new sedentary lifestyle. For a working diet high in gasoline, all carbohydrates must be cut, so that the simple pleasure of a peanut butter sandwich becomes poison.
Folks, I'm not writing this to say that a culture that replaces carbohydrates with cars is morally wrong. For that matter, I don't think that there's anything wicked about becoming overweight. I'll let the self-proclaimed prophets fiddle around with morality. All I want to say is that the automotive way of life in which Americans no longer even move their own bodies except to shift from chair to chair seems like a dreadful existence to me.
There's a huge world that we miss when we only move where our stick shift can take us. I'm hoping that Mayor Kilpatrick's surprising honesty about this problem signals an opening in our society's combustive infrastructure for the people to get out and re-establish the old footpaths along which our nation was founded.
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