Ted Conover on LA’s Global Influence

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In the latest issue of High Country News, yours truly spoke with journalist and adventurer Ted Conover about his newest book “The Routes of Man: How Roads Are Changing The World and the Way We Live Today,” and about the impact of Los Angeles’ car culture on urban development around the world.

A taste:

HCN You traveled all over the world for The Routes of Man, studying roads and car culture. I’m curious if you see the imprint of the West impacting urban development worldwide?

Conover Things are heading more towards L.A. than New York, in terms of sprawl and automobile-oriented cities. But the larger point is that everywhere I’ve traveled, roads have a meaning particular to the place. I think as long as humans have traveled, roads have represented freedom and opportunity and the chance of a better place. But they have colorations beyond that. The beautiful boulevards of Paris were the routes the Nazis took when they occupied that city. It was the Romans’ own fantastic road network that not only let them grow their empire, but led to their downfall when Visigoths and others used the same roads to attack them. In the West Bank, I met Palestinians who basically stopped traveling because they can’t stand the humiliations of all the Israeli checkpoints. On the other hand, the Israelis associate those same roads with bombers and people coming to attack their country. And then you can find the ecstatic side of roads, which is closer to the American experience, in China right now. They see driving as a pleasure they were denied for generations, and can’t get enough of it. Even though I was scared to death most of the time, as my driver went 90 miles per hour on the shoulder to pass big trucks, at the end of the day you were with people who were having the time of their lives.