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Transit + Roof + Food + Education + Job + Proximity + Sense of Place = Good Life. A Broken Equation?

Another fantasy transit map showed up on the Internet the other day. This map  took Amtrak’s current service and spruced it up to show how quick a 220 mph train would service the lines. Sadly many people derided it as a fantasy. The Cato Institute shot it completely down.

Most people derided the map as fantasy not because it’s a boondoggle now. It is because it could become a boondoggle in the future. All levels of the government in this country, but namely state and local governments, have failed at being good stewards of the populace with it’s provisions, such as transit. It’s a popularity contest in most neighborhoods, towns, and cities to be an elected official. And then there is the horror of living in an unincorporated or under incorporated area, that tries to self govern with a homeowners association or through some sort of commercial management company, with no concern for letting people live their lives. Oh and the normally progressive press hasn’t been so helpful either. Public service? Afterthought.

Many of these communities cannot even put food on everyone’s table. People walk the streets who would rather have homes. People have homes that are over or undervalued at the wrong times. Some people get dumped out of their homes because they aren’t pretty enough. The transit that does exist never comes on time or it’s too broken to be of any good. Corporations are people that the government serves and they get the say in who eats, rides, lives, or even walks in their community.

It should be no surprise then that when polled, citizens continually rag on the true effectivity of the government. Atlanta citizens just did the same thing in a survey by the Atlanta Journal-Constitution. Atlanta area citizens recently voted down a transit initiative to attempt to bring the proper level of public transit to the area. The number one reason the initiative was voted down was a lack of trust. Atlanta residents were given a bum deal when MARTA was first built. Public housing has all but been wiped out and there’s not been adequate replacements. Public schools encouraged students to cheat. Even though jobs are scarce, people are being encouraged to NOT go on welfare. The comment sections of many of these articles reveal that only certain people are deserving of jobs, homes, schools, and other public benefits.

Therein lies the problem. Many people, in fact too many people, are selfish and greedy. Too many of these selfish and greedy folks are people of power. One minute you want people to work and pay taxes, yet you don’t want to pay them well enough to be taxpayers. One minute you want people to have jobs, but you want to do more with less workers. When you try to pander to anti-poverty, social justice, smart growth, new urbansim, or good governance, any good that comes from these initiatives is negated from ill application. My friends at Placemakers have a wonderful (albeit technical) list of why smart growth/new urbanism is failing in some communities. They also get to the heart of the matter. People need to be connected. Not selfish or greedy. Also, It’s simply about creating good places. We need to move away from the jargon as well.

Hence the need for advocacy. We need to make the case to our leaders that more needs to  can be done. I am proud to be a part of a movement that takes the conversation on where we live and how we live to a different level through analysis, advocacy, and solutions. After all,  our next civil rights battle is the streets. Who can be on them at night and at day? Who can afford to be on them? Who can build on them? Who can ride on them? And whether or not they should be built or maintained at all? We need to make sure the equation above never returns null.

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