Cities of Tomorrow

I really hope that the American city of tomorrow will look very different than the typical American city of today. I actually have some optimism that it will. I don't have a whole lot of evidence, but I do have a theory.

First, watch this video that has been getting a lot of play on the urbanism blogs lately. It's footage of "rush hour" in Utrecht, Neterlands.

A lot of people will look at this video and say that, while nice, it will never happen in an American city; and the reason it will never happen is because Americans don't want to behave like that or that they can't for XYZ reasons.

At the same time, statistics often tell a different story, like this:
According to the Nationwide Personal Transportation Survey, 25 percent of all trips are made within a mile of the home, 40 percent of all trips are within two miles of the home, and 50 percent of the working population commutes five miles or less to work.
With numbers like that, we might expect a lot more people to be out on bikes. Maybe not to the extent that they are in Europe, but to some extent greater than the status quo.

Some of the difference is political - tax policy and subsidization, for instance. But much of it is culture. Car culture is very strong here. Very strong.

So why am I optimistic? I was recently talking to a retired guy who was upset that he can't smoke in bars and restaurants in Ohio anymore. "Did you know," he began asking me, "that we used to smoke in the senior cafeteria at my high school? Everybody was doing it back then. Nobody cared." I actually didn't know... but I'd heard that people used to smoke on airplanes and in college classes and places you can't even imagine doing so now.

In the past few decades there has been an incredible change in the culture. Fifty years ago people probably never would have predicted across the board smoking bans. They would have looked around and said "everyone is doing this and everyone likes doing this. It won't change." And really, that's very similar to what I hear about car culture today.


    That's pretty awesome. You inspire me to get back on my bike!

    On May 27, 2010 Anonymous said...

    There is a huge difference.
    Society could function just fine with zero smoking. Smoking per se (rather than some kind of medicated relief of stress) isn't required, at any level.

    Motorized transport is a different thing - our dense cities automatically require a great deal of material (food, fuel, building materials, etc.) to be imported from the producing (rural) areas. So large dense cities (and the people who live in them) cannot function without transport.

    Therefore, there will always be "cars", and they will always be a very beguiling alternative - fast, less work, out of the weather.

    (Not to say people couldn't travel much more by bike, which might well reduce car trips, but how much will it reduce vehicle counts and vehicle miles traveled? Likely not by more than about 1/4.)

    [I cycle quite a lot, sometimes even for utility purposes.]

    On May 27, 2010 rg said...

    I forget where it was written or said, but I remember hearing or reding a quote from back when banning smoking on the NYC Subway was first proposed. The quote went along the lines of:

    "If they ban smoking on the subway, nobody will ever ride it again!"

    Similarly, when that Utrecht video was posted on GGW a week or so ago, one regular anti-bike and anti-transit commenter wrote that biking and transit is all well and good for Utrecht but that we will never have the necessary density here in DC for similar behavior. A subsequent commenter actually did some research (!) and found that DC has a considerably higher population density than Utrecht. The first commenter never responded, but I'm sure he would not be one to be swayed by facts. I get the feeling that even if he were transported to the future and saw everyone biking and riding streetcars in DC, he would still try to claim that "it can never happen here!"


    The video does actually show delivery and service vehicles, many of which may be doing things in non rush hour, even so I'd say they would make up no more than 1/5of the trafic. On the video, they are perhaps 3%.

    Pedestrian trafic very lite but the density here looks just right for bikes.