It was just the Cars…


It was just the Cars…

I can do nothing but laugh at the arrogance of some people. I just read a long article in “Wired” about the incoming head of San Francisco’s MTA, Jeff Tumlin. The author and his subject took a bike ride around Baghdad by the Bay and were gushing about what a wonderful place it would be if only there were no cars, and of course more inexpensive housing.

Cars, it seems, when you combine them with a dash of pastoralism and racism you suddenly have a problem that can only be solved by bicycles and buses.

They love the quaint alleys with high end stores and restaurants where you can sit outside and have a $10 latte or buy a Hermes scarf for $500. And for some reason can’t understand why there is not enough housing for the fellow who is driving the bus that will solve all their problems.

Houses are being built further and further out in the countryside so people have to drive their dreaded cars into the city. But the key is to do away with onstreet (and off street) parking so those folks who drive buses and wait on tables cannot afford to come into town.  I just love this quote from the article:

Being a bus operator has, historically, been the kind of job that provides a pathway to the middle class in the US, especially for people of color. Yet someone who can’t afford to live in the Bay Area can’t get that job. “The rising cost of housing outpaces an employer’s ability to pay,” Tumlin says. “I am talking out loud about converting office space to dormitories.”

So let’s see – we set up dormitories in offices so workers and live in bunkbeds and what, be able to get to their jobs by simply walking down the hall. Have you ever heard anything so unself-aware? Can they not see that it’s the very thing that they love, the tony shops and the like, that make the city so unaffordable?

It’s that pesky law of unintended consequences that seems to kick in when you least expect it. We cannot have low cost housing because, egad, it will attract the folks that we want to see in the city for work, but not in the city to live.  Who can afford it even if the rent was low enough, with all those trendy shops? Not a bodega in sight.

Read the article linked above if you think you can stand it. It ends like this:

Tumlin and his generation of planners are offering a new vision of what broke American civil society. The culprit wasn’t rock and roll or miniskirts or hippies. It wasn’t immigrants or violent comics or violent TV or violent video games or drugs or feminism or atheism or Fox News or cell phones or Russian hackers or even Dungeons and Dragons.

It was just cars.




Picture of John Van Horn

John Van Horn

2 Responses

  1. This quote has been attributed to various people, but it certainly applies to Tumlin:
    “Better to remain silent and be thought a fool than to speak out and remove all doubt.”

  2. We are seeing an interesting twist where people are “bunking where they work” during this crisis, although in a starkly different manner than the dormitories in offices as quoted. I believe we will find people realize that with proper digital tools they can accomplish a significant amount of work from home and will be willing to forego at least some of the novelties of the city in exchange for more time and flexibility back in their lives.

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