In my last post I introduced Joel Kotkin, self-appointed Defender of Suburbia against the Urban Elites, and gave you a taste of some of the misinformation he spreads. I linked to critiques of him by the Most Senior Fellow, by Yonah Freemark, and most recently by Jarrett Walker. To this I would like to add the DC Streetsblog crew and DMI John.
So why do all these people get so worked up over the hyperventilations of an architecture professor in the San Fernando Valley? Why is your Cap'n spending two posts (and more) on this guy? It's because Kotkin speaks the language of the left. Many pundits argue against transit in right-wing terms: conformity, progress, low taxes, property rights. When Patrick McHenry mocks cycling as "a 19th century solution," liberals tune him out as just another wingnut. John McCain's stance against Amtrak helped me and others to think of him less as a "maverick" and more as simply a reactionary. That said, it's nice that we have people continuing in the tradition of Paul Weyrich, countering these attacks and promoting transit in conservative terms. And of course people like Adron Hall in libertarian terms.
In contrast to McHenry and McCain, Kotkin speaks of oppression and social justice. In fact, in a great takedown five years ago, Jeremy Reff pointed out Kotkin's frequent use of Marxist terminology. Kotkin and Cox also throw a bit of environmental disinformation in there, drawing disproportionate attention to the pollution caused by reducing road space allocated to cars. When one academic liberal hears another academic liberal talk about the elites (he used to call us "Euro-Americans") imposing their plans on the common folk, they take notice, and it absolves them of guilt for driving their Subaru wagon to the transition workshop.
A significant portion of the support for transit comes from car-dependent liberals who are prepared to sacrifice their own short-term interests for issues of social justice and pollution reduction. Someone like Kotkin doesn't even need to refute these arguments, only to introduce enough fear, uncertainty and doubt to make these people question whether their sacrifice is working.
There are also quite a few conservatives who think in terms of standing up for the little guy against the elitists; this is a common refrain here in Queens. Because of this, it is important for transit advocates to be familiar with Kotkin's arguments and prepared to rebut them point for point. This will allow us to confront new versions of the arguments as they pop up in our local media. I therefore encourage all transit advocates to subscribe to Kotkin's RSS feed and respond to any anti-transit argument you see. Do it until you've had enough practice that you can do it in your sleep. If you let me know, I'll link to it.