The National Interstate and Defense Highways Act of 1956 created the spine of the magnificent highway system we use today. It enabled our Military to move weapons at a safe distance from residential communities, and enabled people to move themselves and their goods more quickly from place to place. As a result, people could travel from city to city without knowing much about the human habitations that lay in between. That changed places, and it changed travel. Of course, drivers could still choose to make more leisurely progress. On the way from point A to point B, we can exit to the intervening cities, towns, and villages and explore their attractions, if we know about them and if we have the time, but that's become so rare that we've labeled it -- somewhat pejoratively -- as "taking the scenic route."
Merely ten years after the implementation of the Interstate System, sociologists coined the phrase "Spatial Polarization" and began publishing studies for the Federal Government about how society at large was becoming fractured by the nation's new circum-navigating roads.
Fast-forward fifty years: Americans now spend more than 74 billion hours of vacation time on highways each year. This is "Social Distancing" writ large. We use the highways to travel the country, but from the highway, much of the Nation is invisible to us.
We’re the first people in history to travel on roads specifically designed to ignore communities, and we are not psychologically built for it. It’s frustrating, and a little frightening, to know so little about where we are, where we’re welcome, and what we’re missing.
Many of us “cope” by assuming that there’s just nothing important "here" for us to consider, and even more polarizingly, that there's no one "here" we would care to even know about. Studies show that we're actually energized by feeling angry and alienated, but long-term feelings of alienation are demonstrably corrosive, both mentally and physically. It’s heart-and-spirit-healthy to feel connected to our surroundings, even when they’re hidden from sight. We want to know "Who lives here?" and "What would my life be like here?" because we are social. We are thrilled to feel that we could be part of a community!
Our schedules often demand that we stay on the highway, and plow ahead to get where we’re going, as soon as possible.
But that doesn't mean we need to be isolated.
Wanting to know about WHERE WE ARE is in our nature.