Sunday, April 11, 2010

Giving the people what they want

While I really don't want to encourage Ian Bicking and his new friend Adam Schildge to continue insulting and patronizing me in the comments, they do help move the discussion along by repeating Joel Kotkin's more annoying talking points. So now that I've dealt with "the independence of cars" and "you're anti-suburb," let's move on to "what the people want." And here's hoping that they'll comment with a bit less judgment and contempt, and a bit more benefit of the doubt.

Ian writes, "Joel Kotkin has a certain advantage: what he's saying has empirical backing. There are real desires (for home ownership, for the independence of a car) that are widely expressed in our country." Adam writes, "Many people do not enjoy the benefits of dense urban living because they may prefer to have more personal space and the independence afforded by a car for occasional trips." Kotkin himself writes things like, "It's widely understood there that many people move to places like Dallas, whether in closer areas or exurbs, largely to purchase affordable single-family homes." And of course Wendell Cox writes, "Americans, like people all over the world, prefer to live in single-family homes and like to have a little land they can call their own for gardening, entertainment, and play areas."

I'm well aware that many people desire larger homes and land. I myself am one of those people; I would love to have a large, sprawling old Victorian with a forest behind it where my son can run wild. I would also like to have a condo with a view of the Brooklyn Bridge. And no commute. And I would like to eat nothing but Oreos, bacon and ice cream for the rest of my life and wash it down with beer and Coca-Cola, and I want to be slim and strong. I would like to have Love Hewitt available to satisfy my every desire, but not when I want to spend quality time with my wife. I want to be President and an inventor and an astronaut and a Solid Gold dancer.

Everyone has desires. Many of those desires conflict with one another. Nobody has enough time, enough space or enough money to fulfill all their desires. Not even Donald Trump - does he look like it? That's just the way the world is, and anyone who tells you that you can have everything you want is either a con artist or a nut or both.

That's just one person. When you put a bunch of people together, their desires will conflict. Some are in direct conflict, some are in competition for scarce resources. Something's gotta go. Eight billion people just can't have everything they want.

Jim Kunstler tried to say something similar to John Stossel and got attacked for it. That's what happens when someone tries to be the adult in the room and step out of fantasyland.

Kotkin, Cox, Stossel and friends - including Chris Christie - are like those fuckers who put out bread crumbs for the pigeons. Look at me, the great caretaker, saving the birds from starvation! But do you ever see them washing the pigeon shit off the sidewalk? Do they do anything to ensure that the birds are protected from the consequences of overpopulation? Of course not. All they see is their own role in giving the birds what they want.


Matt Miller said...

There are certain things America holds to to be 'good', regardless of circumstance and condition--marriage and home ownership among them. And as a result, there has been a political will to support these things, in excess of the actual desire for them.

Road subsidies have been used to 'manufacture' cheap land, to lower the cost of home ownership.

When allowed to make economically rational decisions, almost no one lives in the middle of no-where. Access to employment, schooling, shopping, and other amenities is critical. Where there are no state subsidized highways, there are no subdivisions.

My cohort of friends are just-now beginning to own homes. They start in the center city, where they have been happily renting for years, and slowly spiral out, on a 'drive until you qualify' basis.

Alternatives are rare. Condo prices are ludicrous--luxury condos built for empty nesters, priced at $300,000. Salt Lake is only now beginning to see condos priced at anything close to levels affordable ($150,000) for first time home owners.

Chad said...

We can't have it all, and I don't know anyone who thinks we can. Instead, we resort to the complicated task of prioritizing.

Some, in the act of prioritizing, decide that their desire for owning a single-family home with a three-car garage overrides their desire for reduced pollution, increased efficiency, reduced carnage, and mobility for all.

Could it be that some people prefer indulging tangible desires like home ownership over larger, amorphous ideals? Do people discount the importance of the larger issues because of ignorance, lack of empathy, or straight-up selfishness? How do we respond to supporters of homeownership who believe we can achieve these larger goals in a car-centric society?

Big questions, I know. I'm interested in your take, especially your views on how both individuals and societies should learn to prioritize.

Cap'n Transit said...

Thanks, Chad and Matt. Yes, it's about prioritization. I'll have a post tonight about that.

jazumah said...

Chris Christie is someone that you ought to support. He is being forced to reduce the size of government and several politically motivated, but useless bus services are dying. When people look at mass transit, they take the weakest routes and spotlight them. For example, the NJT967 was designed to run in the I-80 HOV lanes. The removal of those lanes killed the route. It should have been dead years ago.

Bus service can service sprawl areas, but the model is different. A grid bus system with 35-40 foot buses isn't for everyone. Some communities just need paratransit style van service where everyone is eligible or 14 passenger vans on fixed routes. Public agencies don't deal well with scaling down service to the environment. It usually takes a non-profit or private carrier to pull it off.