They Paved Paradise

So said Joni Mitchell, some years ago.  The same thought was echoed by Chrissie Hynde, when she wrote, My pretty countryside had been paved down the middle, by a government that had no pride.  The farms of Ohio had been replaced by shopping malls.

Travel/transportation is another technology which has advanced greatly over the last couple of centuries, and especially the last 50 or 60 years.  Some will say that’s a good thing.  Some will claim it’s necessary.  It has definitely opened up North America, and Americans’ social eyes, but old guys like me still miss the old days a bit, even if they weren’t “good.”

Travel used to be difficult and time-consuming.  BrainRants can rant about taking 36 hours to get from Afghanistan to Kansas, but it’s not too long ago that it would have taken 36 days, and before that, 36 weeks.  I’m reading a series of books about a Virginia town, transported back to 1632 Germany.  In those days not many people travelled more than 20 miles from where they were born.  The Americans found travel particularly difficult, because of what they had been used to.

Twenty miles was about as far as you could go in one day.  The word journey comes from the French word, journée, a day’s work or travel.  Most people had to walk.  A lucky few had riding horses, somewhat faster and less tiring, but not terribly comfortable.  Merchants and the like had wagons, but roads were rutted, pot-holed, and often muddy, and wagons had no shock absorbers.  It was rough on the butt and back.

The Romans built a bunch of good roads which lasted, but were still hard on the feet and spines of travellers.  It was not until the 1880s that the idea of mixing tar or asphalt with sand and small stones allowed the construction of “permanent”, smooth roads, and speeds and personal comfort to increase.

Even a hundred years ago, most freight and passengers moved around the country on trains.  The U.S. has maintained a lot of track, but sadly, much of Canada’s has been torn up.  Both countries now rely heavily on motorised vehicles.   To serve them, roads and parking areas have burgeoned.  The big, multi-lane highways are fenced off, preventing both humans and animals from crossing.  You can’t get on, and you can’t get off.  They’re finally getting smart, and building animal overpasses on the Trans-Canada Highway in a couple of the big National parks

In the areas of Michigan where I’ve driven, instead of blacktop, they’ve built their roads from poured concrete.  Concrete expands and contracts differently from asphalt.  It is laid down in 50-foot sections, with rubberized joints between them.  This creates a most annoying tick, tick, tick, as you drive over them, almost like the steel wheels of the old trains.  The concrete lasts longer than asphalt, but when it does need repair, pouring concrete into a pothole is more difficult, it takes longer to set, and the repair falls apart faster than blacktop.

The American Interstates, and Ontario’s 400-series highways didn’t come into existence until the mid-60s.  As a child, about 1950, I hadn’t even visited the little neighboring town, 5 miles away, and my Father took us to Niagara Falls on vacation.  Nowadays, it’s a four-hour, 200 mile trip.  Back then it took most of a day; even paved roads were only 2-lanes, they ran into and out of every little town, signage was poor, or non-existent.   I don’t know how Dad managed to find the place.

We rented a little cabin for an overnight stay.  Dad was paranoid enough, that he put his wallet under his pillow.  The next day we crossed the border to visit some relatives in upstate New York.  It wasn’t until Dad tried to buy some gas for the trip back, that he realized his wallet was missing.  Two adults, and two little kids got into the States without a shred of I.D., almost no money, and not a bit of fuss raised.  Imagine trying that at the border today.  The owner of the cabins was holding the wallet when we got back.  An honest cleaning lady had turned it in.

If only roads went only where very little grows.  Sadly, that is not the case.  Here in Southern Ontario, and many other places, 10 and 12 lane super-roads are eating up hundreds of square miles of the best farmland in the world.  Recharge areas for underground aquifers which supply drinking water to our cities are being paved over for roads and parking lots.  All that black paving sucks up the heat of the sun, making cities up to five degrees C. hotter than the surrounding countryside.

As a small-town boy, I appreciate the ability to get to interesting places quickly and easily.  I like having all the conveniences that a city can provide, but there are an increasing number of times I wish we could go back to a simpler, more pastoral time.  Do any of you feel the same way?  Residents of Newfoundland need not reply.  Void where society is already 50 years behind the times.

15 thoughts on “They Paved Paradise

  1. Kayjai says:

    Dammit, I’m replying anyway! AND, we are only 5 years behind, not 50 years thank you, very much. Now, what was I saying? Oh, yeah! I agree. Thanks.


    • Archon's Den says:

      That little dig was to see if Ted was awake. He’s got roads ’cause the Americans brought them and left them behind. Do ALL the out-ports at least have dirt roads, or is it still dory time, to get to some of them?? 😕


  2. BrainRants says:

    I always learn something from your posts, Archon. I somewhat agree with your message, I do also hate seeing lovely ground paved over. On the other hand, I love that the Western world drives everything else. In some ways, our highways and way of life are the backbone of freedom.


  3. Archon's Den says:

    I’m happy that even you learn something from my digital spew. I firmly agree with you, but I just bought a big bucket of nostalgia on E-Bay that I wanted to use up. 😉


  4. whiteladyinthehood says:

    Well, since I am a person who would love to take the Road to Nowhere (it’s an old dirt road, left at the oak tree, right at the falling down barn) to the town of Never-Heard-of-It and live happily ever after – I would give your post an A+.


    • Archon's Den says:

      Dirt road? Oak tree? Falling-down barn? Sounds like you’ve already driven in Waterloo Region. Next time you’re in the area, swing past the house. I’m just inside the western edge of the built-up, crazy section. I’ll grab my bag of BaleBoard plastic clothes-pegs, and go with you. 😉 I’m glad you liked the post. 😀


  5. Sightsnbytes says:

    as a matter of fact, we LIKE being 50 years behind times…keeps things safe! nice story though!


    • Archon's Den says:

      I’m with you, mate! I liked what I had 50 years ago. I see the (mostly teenage male) louts, out louting and think how much better it would be for everyone, if they had to trek through 20 miles of bush to buy their drugs, or carjack someone, or hold up a corner store, or beat up a queer. There’d be a lot less crime, and a lot more dried fish. While I occasionally joke, I envy you guys. 😀


      • Sightsnbytes says:

        unfortunately in KJ’s neck of the woods things are very much like any other city in Canada.crime, drugs, etc. Over here on the west Coast of the island things are still much the same as they were many years ago.


  6. Jim Wheeler says:

    Your post got me to thinking about trains and wondering about their efficiency. Have the interstate highways and larger trucks made them obsolescent? The answer is, not by a long shot. Here’s an interesting comparison:

    Human – can carry 100 lbs. 20 miles per day (one ton-mile/day)
    Wheelbarrow – can carry 4 ton-miles/day
    Horse cart on good pavement – can carry 10 ton-miles/day
    Fully loaded utility truck – can carry 20,000 ton-miles/day[citation needed]
    Long-haul train – can carry 500,000 ton-miles/day[30] Most trains take 250–400 trucks off the road, thus making the road more safe.

    So, thanks to the almost frictionless rail (and the expensive infrastructure to lay the track), trains are 25 times more efficient to operate than trucks.

    Here in Joplin, Missouri, we are a major transportation hub. We’re at the intersection of two interstate highways and a large railroad passes right through town as well. Just judging by the view from our car, lots of coal passes through, headed south on the trains. I’m thinking it’s probably coming from Wyoming and headed for power plants. Then there’s the mighty Interstate. The thing seems to have a life of its own because no matter when you observe it, the cars and trucks are always there, flowing in the same way at the same speed, day and night. I counted one time and came to the conclusion that the number of trucks is about equal to the number of cars these days. That’s a lot of trucks.

    Joplin is also on the track of old Route 66. It passes just a quarter mile from our house in fact. The local merchants here have been ramping up designs to appeal to the history buffs, many of whom come from overseas. The Japanese seem particularly fascinated – seems strange. Murals have been painted on buildings and the occasional old car sits as backdrop for snapshots. Memorabilia shops are springing up. An old Route 66 Drive-in has been restored, as has an old motel (the Boots Motel). The road never looked as good back in the day as it does now.


    • Archon's Den says:

      There was some talk years ago about emphasizing ship-by-rail, deliver-by-small-truck, leaving the highways to cars, but it didn’t come about. Now, the two right-hand lanes are nose-to-tail trucks, and you take your life in your hands to try to get past them, or get down the exit ramp.

      The resurrection of Route 66 is proof that people prefer things the way they were 50 years ago. Nostalgia isn’t what it used to be. 😉


  7. We have lights that come on at the flip of a switch, water that flows with the turn of a tap, and luxury of luxuries, inside outhouses. Does that put us within your 50 year timescale?


    • Archon's Den says:

      Well….47-1/2, but that’s close enough. You make Ted, out on The Rock, look absolutely modern. You drove them big roads, before you took the dogsled north, to get some peace and quiet. I know which one you prefer. We can live without all that blacktop. 🙂


  8. benzeknees says:

    Ah, the good old days! I often wish for them when I am being inundated by news from around the world (which is almost always bad). I would like to return to the days when you knew more about your community than you did about what was happening on the other side of the world.


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