Originally, an urbanist means an expert in urban planning, someone who asserts that an ideal city prioritises walkability and transit-oriented and mixed-use developments, provides extensive and safe bike infrastructures and decreases use of air-polluting, noise-polluting, space-consuming, traffic-congesting, wallet-draining and live-taking cars.
They believe such approach maximises financial health, social cohesion, liveliness, environmental sustainability, physical health and connectivity.
Anyway, in recent years on the internet (in communities which I encounter, at least), the definition has evolved to someone who actively advocates for what the urban planning experts propose. An urbanist can be an online content creator who makes urban planning content that is accessible to the wider audience; even though not all of them have the credentials, they often cite studies.
In this blogpost, I am going to focus on the latter definition of urbanists. And when I use the word “you”, I am referring to car and suburbia nuts.
So, let’s talk about your accusations of us… and how they are actually projections.
First projection: anti-progress
You believe we have unreasonable hatred for technology and wish humanity retreat back to cavemen lifestyle.
We believe true futurism requires consideration of long-term sustainability of anything we do in our lives. In urban planning context, we want cities to be sustainable to our physical health, mental health, finance, social cohesion and natural environment in the long run.
Basically, when making decision about adopting new methods and tools, we have to consider not only their benefits, but also their drawbacks. If there are more drawbacks than benefits, then we shouldn’t adopt them, regardless of how old or new they are.
Meanwhile, your idea of futurism is all about unquestioningly adopting and celebrating new technologies. You cannot comprehend that new does not always mean better, that the old ways can be better sometimes.
Electric cars – a favourite of fake futurists – are still space-consuming cars. They will still congest traffic and they will still cause cities to sprawl. And we can see how bulky those Teslas are.
And they still cause air pollution anyway. Those batteries require rare minerals which can only be obtained through mining. Don’t forget asphalt also has emission, which may be higher than ones of fossil fuels.
You are the kind of person who want your world to resemble a sci-fi one, not realising what the fi stands for, not realising sci-fi works are often cautionary tales against tactless use of technologies. There is a reason why sci-fi is only taught in arts and humanities classes.
Oh, and green tech won’t save the planet either. But, do you know what does? Decreasing your consumption.
You embrace green tech because you want to justify your wasteful lifestyle and put some or most of the blame on poorer and less developed countries, even though they emit less emission despite being far more populous.
And yes, even American-style suburbias are far from green. In the US, most cities emit far less CO2 than the suburbs. It makes sense when you realise suburban dwellers use cars more than their urban counterparts and suburban yards and sidewalks aren’t always lush with trees. Don’t forget that they are often devoid of native plants and biodiversity.
Your idea of futurism does not put humanity a few steps forward. It brings us a few steps backward.
Second projection: Anti-efficiency
You believe we hate cars so much, we would rather deprive everyone of efficient transportation.
Cars are the least efficient mode of transport. Cars have maximum passenger capacity of five and, often times, there is only one in each. There is a significant amount of space taken for five people or less; God forbids if your car is American-sized.
Meanwhile, even though most bikes can only carry one person each, they take very little space. Twenty bikes take less space than ten cars.
Buses and rail transports are indeed bigger than cars. But, they can hold far more passengers. A bus (that is not fully seated) can hold around fifty people. A metro train can hold around a thousand passengers maximum.
And you expect me to believe that making most people drive is the most efficient way?
I don’t know how you can see those wide, congested roads and still believe that. Houston’s Katy Freeway has 26 lanes and it has one of the worst congestions in Texas.
Yeah, I know pedestrian spaces, bike lanes and public transports with right-of-way can be jam-packed. But, their flow of traffics are constantly moving, unlike car roads which can come to a standstill for minutes or even hours at a time.
Oh, and considering most of us never advocate for complete ban of cars, we still allow cargo vehicles to roam. In fact, if most people don’t drive, those cargo vehicles are far less likely to stuck in traffic.
Even then, cargo versions of bikes also exist, believe it or not. No, I am not talking about ones with small woven baskets on the frontside. I am talking about ones with cargo containers as big as the bikes themselves.
I have had many repairmen coming in and out of my house. I have seen the size of materials and tools they bring. Most of the time, if they live in a place where cargo bikes are in abundance and it is safe to cycle on the streets, they could have definitely used them to do their jobs.
Third projection: Financially and economically irresponsible
You believe that we hate cars and sprawling suburbia so much, we would rather destroy the city’s finance by having expensive transit systems and destroy the economies by shutting car factories down.
I am not going to pretend transit systems are cheap to construct and maintain. But, do you know what else isn’t cheap? Car infrastructures.
Believe it or not, roads also require lots of money to build and maintain. The more they are used by motored vehicles, the quicker they deteriorate and the quicker they deteriorate, the more they need resurfacing.
Unless car users pay their fair share of road tax (corresponding to the weight of their vehicles, as heavier ones cause even more damage), car infrastructures are expensive and unprofitable things which are heavily subsidised by the states.
Sprawling, car-centric urban developments in general are also financially draining. They have low population density while having facilities comparable to ones in dense urban environments. Expensive to maintain while generating little tax revenue.
Don’t forget that city highways cannot be constructed without the destruction of neighbourhoods, which would definitely ruin livelihoods. With fewer lands available, their prices would increase; if you live in a place where people from all over migrate to, the living cost would be suffocating.
If car factories are closed, those workers will still have jobs, anyway. I mean, how do you think bicycles, buses and trains exist? Appear out of thin air?
Public transit tickets are definitely far cheaper than the prices of car fuel, maintenance, insurance and tax. Therefore, car-dependency also punish people for being poor.
Fourth projection: hating just for the sake of hating
You believe we are just haters who hate car-dependency and sprawling suburbia for no reasons. You believe that if we have experienced the joy of owning cars and living in a sprawling suburbia, we wouldn’t be haters.
We hate car-dependency and sprawling suburbia because we have experienced them.
We have experienced living and commuting in places where cars are king. We know how it feels to walk and bike with high chance of getting hit by cars. We know how it feels to use unreliable and uncomfortable public transit. We know how it feels when those fucktarded motored vehicles are the only viable options.
You remind me of religious zealots who think religion detractors have zero experiences with religions, refusing to acknowledge that many of them grew up in religiously oppressive environments.
Oh, and despite your inexperience living and/or visiting places with good walkability and public transit, you love looking down on walking and public transit.
You don’t know how nice it is to not be financially burdened by cars and not dealing with incompetent and angry drivers. You don’t know how liberating it is to live a very mobile life while car-free. You think walking and transit experiences in your car-centric hometowns are universal.
Fifth projection: unnaturalness
You believe what we are advocating is “unnatural”. You believe humans aren’t meant to live in concrete jungles and stacked atop of each other (in the form of apartments), where cables used by trolley buses and trams are lingering above us.
Give me scientific evidences that humans are innately not meant to live in dense cities. If there is one paper that shows the negative effects of city living, how do you know the results are applicable every person? Have you considered the individuals’ medical and cultural backgrounds? Have you considered…. the urban design?
Believe it or not, just because a statement feels right to you, that does not mean it actually is.
Every single man-made thing is unnatural. Your beloved cars, single-detached houses, malls and wide roads are unnatural. If you truly care about living “natural”, then you should also denounce those things as well.
Don’t forget that your beloved, sprawling and American-style suburbs are even more destructive to the natural environment. Not only they take a lot of natural spaces, they also have yards which mostly consist of chemically-maintained grasses and, as mentioned before, lack any native plants and biodiversity.
Sixth projection: unrealistic expectations
You believe that we are being unrealistic with our expectations. You believe the car-centrism and sprawling nature of cities are innate and therefore, there are limits to turning car-centric cities to be more walkable, more bike-friendly, more transit-oriented and more compact.
If you take a look at old photos of American cities, you would see they were almost as compact as their European counterparts; they were walkable, bike-friendly, compact and equipped with trams.
Basically, they were never intended to be car-centric and sprawling; I mean, this makes sense when you remember America has existed long before the automobiles. As Jason Slaughter from Not Just Bikes loves to say: American cities weren’t build for the cars, they were bulldozed for the cars.
If it is possible for us to spend lots of time, money and energy turning walkable and compact cities into the exact opposite, I don’t see anything unrealistic about the vice versa.
But, do you know what is realistic? Believing that your wasteful lifestyle is sustainable in the long run.
Seventh projection: tyranny
You believe we want to ban cars entirely, force everyone to ride bikes for everything and ban single-family houses with huge yards.
When we say car-dependency, we are not referring to the mere existence of cars, we are referring to a situation in which everyone uses car to do literally almost anything, from shopping groceries to going to work and school. We want everyone to have alternative options. Very few urbanists actually support complete ban of cars. Some of us – excluding me – actually love cars.
In fact, car lovers should oppose car-dependency. Not only you are far less likely to get stuck in traffic, you are far less likely to encounter grumpy drivers who always hate driving.
And eliminating single-family home zone with mandatory minimum size requirements is not the same banning big single-family homes with big yards. You still can have them. But, others are allowed to have different kinds of housing and to run businesses within their premises.
We actually want freedom. But, do you know who don’t? You do.
You are the one who want your cities to stay car-centric. You are the one who love dismissing complains about poor pedestrian, biking and mass transit infrastructures and think the complainers should grow up by buying their own cars.
You are the one who want to keep the single-family house zone. You insist residential neigbourhoods must be exclusively reserved for big single-family housing with big yards, with no room for smaller and more affordable housing and small businesses.
You are comparable to religious zealots who think shoving their beliefs down everyone’s throat is a form of religious freedom that benefit everyone. Having only one option is not freedom.
In fact, you love mocking cyclists who got killed by entitled drivers, whom you always let off the hook. You do more than just normalising deaths by cars, you also celebrate “executions” of anyone who are unwilling or unable to drive.
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