Americans Are Lonelier Than Ever And Cars Are Part Of The Problem

Image: Frederic J. Brown (Getty Images)
Image: Frederic J. Brown (Getty Images)

In spite of the country having decided that the Coronavirus pandemic is a thing of the past, the knock-on effects of isolating ourselves have continued unabated. American loneliness is an epidemic in itself, and was already a rising issue before 2020, though was exacerbated by shelter-in-place and the mistrust and polarization that came with it. Our car-centric infrastructure has been developing for decades, but increased focus on suburban sprawl has pushed Americans farther apart than ever. Is there a way out of this loneliness spiral?

In our car-centric society, not having a car is an immense burden. We just don’t build our towns and cities around walkability, and a growing sense of mistrust in strangers means chance encounters are far less likely now than in previous periods of American mobility history. We’ve always been a car-minded country, but an increasing push to curbside pickup, food delivery, corporate efficiency, and in-home entertainment has driven us to isolate and stay in. Our spheres of companionship are far less likely to extend beyond our families.

“Car-centric infrastructure allows for corporations with more efficient supply chains to beat local coffee shops and corner bakeries that used to be in every neighborhood,” says Strong Towns in the above video.


While there are many exceptions to the rule here in the U.S., our country is increasingly reliant on corporate spaces to create community. The inflation of the last few years has made meeting up with friends expensive and difficult. Can we blame all loneliness on driving and traffic? Absolutely not, but it’s a significant contributing factor with tons of cascading effects. Everything we do is driven, no pun intended, by a car-necessary society.

Ironically, I’ve found lots of connection in the car community by starting my own little weekly car gathering. Car events are their own third place, where people can hang out without being accused of loitering crimes, or having to pay for the privilege. By creating a free weeklyevent for people of all walks to come participate in, I’m helping allay my own sense of loneliness, getting out and building automotive community. Cars are definitely a part of the problem, but they can usher in a solution to that problem as well. It isn’t the cars, it’s the people.

Are you getting involved in your local community? Are you helping others to find their third place, or supporting your local third place businesses? I’ve had enough of living in the suburbs, and I recently moved into a highly-walkable neighborhood with dozens of community-driven hangout spots, including parks, gardens, locally-owned coffee shops, bars, and a donut spot that hosts Formula One watch parties. I truly hope you find your own third places and kick some of the loneliness you may be feeling. It all starts with community building. What kind of community do you want to live in?

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