Wednesday, August 15, 2012

Whose Streets?

I just finished Peter Norton's Fighting Traffic. It is a really fine book that works through in great detail how the Automobile industry and its supporters managed to transform streets for essential public spaces in to expensive and always more crowded preserves of the motorized vehicle.

What struck me about his analysis and narrative was the extent to which the Automobile industry's strategy is the prevalent model for groups dedicated to destroying the vestiges of the welfare state in these United States and abroad. In general the idea is to buy off expert opinion and use leverage with the state to trample popular desires and, as result, create a new culture that is immeasurably less humane than what went before.

It is, however, possible to move back toward a more humanistic vision of your cities, towns, and burgs. As result of the Automobile industry's purchase of the opinions of key traffic engineers in the 1920s in the US streets are designed to maximize "floor space" for automobiles. This take over by private enterprise of the creation and maintenance of a public good without having to pay for meant and means that each year the American tax payer subsidizes the Automobile industry, trucking, and etc. Getting back to a livable city means returning to the older understanding of streets as multiuse public spheres in which cars, as they are least efficient and most dangerous modes of transportation, are relegated to the lower rungs in the ladder of importance.

One way to accomplish this it to insist, as the Dutch do, that streets are "area[s] where people want or need to be."  This formulation reminds us the purpose of cities, towns, streets, and, more generally, humanity in a social situation isn't profit and industrial expansion.

In other words, the neoliberals are wrong about everything because they have both  bought into and promote the economization of all modes of discourse. Bastards.


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