Just a few hours from Detroit
lies Mackinac Island, a Michigan town that prohibits automobiles-which is kind of shocking, given its proximity to the world's longtime car capital. But the 500 residents and thousands of summer season visitors don't travel in Fords, Chevys, or Chryslers; they move instead on Schwinns, BMXs, and behind some of the 600 horses that pull the town's quaint Victorian carriages. It's a place that looks, in some respects, frozen in time.But while the island might be viewed as either kitschy or Luddite, it is in some ways quite a progressive place. Nearly all of the island is WiFi enabled, the place generates 30 percent of its power hydro-electrically, and low waste is incentivized through a $3 per bag pick-up trash fee (as opposed to a flat monthly rate). What's more, composting is fully integrated into the town's public works as all hotel and restaurant scraps-as well as the waste from those aforementioned horses-is used to make rich soil.
The automobile ban goes back to 1898, when residents of the 4.4 square-mile island (the name of which is pronounced Mackinaw) voted to keep the place car-free. Other laws are in place keep out fast food chains (and, of course, drive-thrus) and franchises-with the exception of a lone Starbucks-and ensure that new buildings adhere to a rigid, era-specific aesthetic. You can see it on the walls of the island's Grand Hotel-one of the only remaining all wood-beam structures in the United States-which boasts an innovative, energy-efficient heating and cooling system, and whose owners are working toward LEED certification and the incorporation of wind turbines. It represents an overall effort to embrace the technologies that improve the quality of life and eschew those that compromise it. And, strangely close to Detroit, it might offer a vision of a hyper-local, post-automobile world, one that seems eerily unchanged by the apparition of cars."We don't want to become another Disneyland or strip mall," says Bob Tagatz, historian and concierge at Grand Hotel. "We're not interpretive history, we're immersion history-we don't sell historical lollipops to taste. You're in a place that looks like it did one hundred years ago and will look the same in one hundred."Photo (cc) flickr user Mackinac Cowgirl.