I’ll Bet they don’t ask me back….


I’ll Bet they don’t ask me back….

My presentation before the World Parking Symposium last week in Tel Aviv went well.  So well, there were no questions.  I guess I just did a super job.  I also did something that most likely ‘isn’t done’ in these circles…I found the way some of my fellow speakers presented their subjects objectionable.

With one or two exceptions, a theme throughout this symposium was sustainability. I think that’s great.  We must be good stewards of our planet and if spending more money than we can afford to make garages, cities, and whatnot more environmentally pure, I’m all for it. However, in pitching your sustainable requirements, don’t lie to me.

In a couple of the PowerPoint presentations there were pictures of polar bears slipping off ice flows to their certain demise, satellite shots of hurricanes, garages filled with water, and the like.  All adding to the urgent need to make things sustainable, and save a doomed planet.

I’m all for using all the tools at your disposal to sell your agenda, but don’t lie to me. We all know that polar bears are currently thriving in larger numbers than any time in the past what, 75 years, that we have had a lull in hurricanes for the past decade that is unprecedented, and I’ve been in that garage that was filled with water and know that one of the major reasons was that the garage was built below sea level.

So after my main presentation was over, I popped off about my concerns about the way the presentations were couched, and how if you are going to pitch an idea, just be sure that the backup you use is true.

A few years ago we had an environmentalist speak at PIE. He had all the credentials. He was from Washington state. He worked for the state department of the environment. He loved trees. He also said that much of the ‘sustainable’ activity taken by governments was bunk.  Mayors, Senators, Presidents would start down a ‘sustainable’ road with great fanfare and then simply let the programs peter out. He gave example after example of programs that began much promise, only to simply drift away. Lack of money, lack of interest, lack of …..

I believe that rich countries like the US, and most of those represented at the World Parking Symposium, have a tendency to spend money like we had it, to make the world more sustainable.  But, by doing so, who do we hurt?  We hurt the least among us.  As we drive the price of gas north of $8 a gallon (as in the EU) who really is harmed.  The poor folks that need their cars to drive to work, or sometimes just to work. Remember that half or more of that $8 is tax, not the cost of the gas.

When we sit in our air conditioned homes in clean beautiful university towns and decry the use of carbon based fuels in India, Africa, or China, we simply damn the poor in those countries to lives of quiet desperation. Sure we can afford to spend fortunes to make our lives sustainable, but can they.

150 years ago our cities were horrible: filled with garbage, air unbreathable, disease was rampant. Today we have solved most of those problems or are in the process of doing so. We reached a point where most people have some discretionary income to spend on things other than food, clothing and shelter. As societies become richer, the lives they lead become cleaner, healthier, more sustainable.  Coal fired plants are replaced by windmills, gas guzzling cars with electric Priuses and Leafs.  Our family size reduces as children no longer are seen as needed for survival.

The WPS presentation made by a UN based group on parking issues in Latin America pointed out how the governments there realize that they can’t just wave their magic wands and make automobiles go away. They have to provide rapid transit systems, they must rethink their broad avenues, they must begin to plan where their housing is built. They were also realists and understood that changing a culture is difficult and can’t be done overnight. That, in this case parking, was there to say and simply decreeing that there would be no more parking ( like in Seattle) wasn’t going to work. The process was a long one, and even projects as seemingly as simple as putting in parking meters could be a long haul. Enforcement, a major issue, but a real struggle..

We are fortunate to be able to have events like the World Parking Symposium where we can argue over the design of new parking facilities, talk about moving everyone back in the cities, finding generations that no longer want to live in the ‘burbs but want to work, play and live all within walking distance.

But the UN group’s presentation brought us back to reality. Mexico City is parking disaster, India is a traffic jam of steroids, China has to figure out how to feed its billions, without suffocating them first.  These kids from the UN did the numbers, we have to fix the problems or we will all simply die.

My arrogant solution:  Help the emerging countries to grow. Get their economies on track. Make it so their people are wealthy enough to want to sit on the clean beach, or breath clean air. They will solve their environmental problems, just as we have come a long way to solve ours.

We want to believe that top down directives can solve problems that affect individuals in cities, in neighborhoods. We cannot fix everything, but we can help others to fix their problems.  Give a man a fish, your feed him for a day, teach a man to fish…

You get the idea.  My speaking agenda is open  — any takers?



Picture of John Van Horn

John Van Horn

2 Responses

  1. Absolutely right on target John.

    And I would like to add “freedom” to your prescription. With freedom comes choice. People will chose to sit on a clean beach. Political systems that represent free people will solve environmental challenges.

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