I noticed that parking lots in my lower-middle class housing development board (HDB) neighbourhood is more crowded than before, even during working hours. Commonsense tells me that population and income has grown, so naturally there will be more cars. The fact that there are more cars in parking lots implies that more people are buying cars, yet not using them.
A lower usage of cars may be due to an increase in road tax (ERP); improvement in public transport like distance-based fare; environmental awareness. Nonetheless, commonsense does not tell me how social structure, class tensions and social circle may contribute to this “parking lot” syndrome, which sociology does.
Fundamentalism states that social structures – underscored by shared values – guide people’s actions. Singapore is a meritocracy, and the ownership of cars is based on merit. One believes that by working hard to attain a certain level of income, one can afford a car. As Singapore’s immigration rate and median income rises, there are more people and naturally more cars in parking lots. The theory goes that social structure is capable of reinforcing or disrupting social stability.
Occasionally, the government attempts to ameliorate road congestion by making Certificates of Entitlement (COE) unaffordable, causing much displeasure. One deduces that if individuals cannot afford a car even when a presumably adequate level of income is reached, social instability ensues.
Moreover, reestablishing social equilibrium corrects social imbalance. As incomes increase, more people expect to own a car and drive more often, worsening congestion. To reconcile goals of increasing car ownership yet alleviating road congestion, the government reduced prices for COE and increased ERP charges during peak hours, resulting in higher car ownership but comparatively lower increase in usage.This corrects the disequilibrium, while giving rise to the “parking lot” condition.
Marx’s Conflict theory asserts that society involves domination by the upper class and subservience of the lower class.The upper middle and upperclasses are more likely to afford driving a car often, thus enjoys advantages such as comfort and shorter travelling time, as a result higher efficiency.
The lower class suffers disadvantages of daily physical and mental stress from public transport, leading to lower efficiency, thus it appears that the rich attains power at the expense of the poor. Society is also defined as a continuous tug of war by each class for power. The rich tries to capture power by pressuring the government to reduce road congestion by eliminating the poor from the road through road tax, as less drivers means higher exclusivity and social status for remaining drivers, not to mention shorter travelling time.
Simultaneously, the lower class tries to increase power by buying cars when they can afford it, otherwise voicing displeasure. The theory delineates that eliminating privilege will reduce conflict and improve overall welfare. By making it easier for the lower classes to own cars, the privilege of car ownership for the upper class is eroded. Although frequent car usage remains a privilege for the rich, one may perceive it as inevitable to prevent conflict arising from road congestion.
Since my neighbourhood is lower-middle class – consisting of mainly four-room and five-room apartments –most may be using their cars less to save on expenses, which accounts for occupied parking lots during working hours. Hence, class tensions may have led to the situation.
Symbolic interactionism concentrates on the impact of interpersonal relations and subjective meanings that people attach to social circumstances, on people’s actions. Depending on individuals, owning a car may mean a significant milestone in life to indicate success or character, perhaps to express attitude and interests.
For instance, Formula One fans may modify or design their cars to resemble popular sports cars. In addition, proponents of this trajectory propose that not only are people molded by social conditions, but also establish social conditions.This aligns with the sociological perspective that individuals are part of society, yet society is part of individuals. Instead of waiting passively for respect or admiring the privileged, people take action to inspire respect from their social circle, like owning a car.
Symbolic interactionism says that by paying attention to subjective meanings, unorthodox opinions are affirmed,promoting higher acceptance of disparities. One’s desire to own a car may be motivated by several reasons, amongst which are peer approval, fulfillment of familial expectations, desire for privacy and comfort. As opposed to using commonsense alone, the understanding of how each person may have compelling interpersonal reasons to own a car makes the “parking lot”observation less of a surprise, and more of an inevitable outcome.
Brym, Robert J. and Lie, John (2007) Sociology: Your Compass for a New World. 3rd edition. Belmont, CA: Thomson/Wadsworth. Chapters 1 & 2.