By Dom Nozzi
Below are my best-ever life decisions, my best-ever life lessons, and the best-ever actions I’ve taken in my life.
Pursue Your Passion. Choose a career based not on how much money you will make, but based on your passions. Most of your life will be spent working in a job. To maximize life happiness, then, your job should be one you are so passionate about that you would happily be employed in that job even if you were not paid.
Avoid Regret. Joseph Cunningham, my best friend and long-time pen pal, taught me a very important rule of life that I have long strived to live by. He told me that when one is a senior citizen and looks back at his or her life, it is the things we don’t do that we regret. Too often, we don’t do something because we fear that something bad will happen, but it is much more likely that we will regret things if we don’t do them, rather than if we do them. I often try to keep this in mind: If something bad does happen, I will someday look back at it and laugh.
Be Bold. I have realized that one must be bold! And be brave! Life is too short to be timid and miss your dreams. I have often said that if there is a fear of embarrassment or danger, keep in mind, again, that regret is more of a risk than to do something you want to do. As Pascal Bruckner once said, “fear doesn’t kill you, it prevents you from living.”
Move to a City You Love. In December of 2009, I moved to Boulder, Colorado, a city I have always loved and admired. In my opinion, Boulder has a perfect climate, has a community with admirable political and philosophical views, is an extremely well-educated and well-read community, has a vast array of world-class hiking/biking/skiing/running opportunities, has several microbreweries and brew pubs brewing world-class beer, and has a very fit population. Boulder has also achieved many world-class town planning infrastructure and policy initiatives. Because of these charms, Boulder has been awarded top community ranking on a national level for many categories of attributes. Boulder has made me happier than I have ever been. Moving here was a keystone decision in my life. Richard Florida argues in his book, Who’s Your City?, that the decision one makes about where to live is the most important decision a person makes in life — more important than what education you decide on, what job you choose, and what spouse you select. I agree with him.
Being Child- and Car-Free is Both Possible and Desirable. Despite the overwhelming urgings of my society, I have found much happiness, health, and financial security by not having children and not owning a car. Our society pounds the message into people throughout their lives that it is impossible to be happy, healthy or financially secure without children or a car. In my own experience, without having kids or a car, I have been able to live an extremely happy life, be exceptionally healthy, and be financially quite secure — so secure that I was able to retire at a young age. I am therefore convinced that many people would find it possible to have happy, rewarding lives without having children or owning a car.
How to Live Well Without Owning a Car, by Chris Balish, is a good book that teaches many important lessons about how easy (and financially beneficial) it is to live without a car. Traveling by car will greatly increase your stress level, increase your blood pressure, and put you in a bad mood. It will add pounds to your body and reduce your lifespan due to an overall decline in your health. And it will rapidly deplete your funds, in a mostly hidden way.
The Joy of Abundant Living. I have discovered great joy in skiing, scuba diving, hiking, mountain biking, touring ancient European cities, kayaking rivers and creeks, contra dancing, writing, public speaking, reading, cooking, paragliding, and skydiving. I heartily recommend trying all of these activities.
Early retirement can come not just from making a lot of money. It can also come — like it did in my case — by cutting my living costs. Indeed, in my experience, the secret to being able to retire in one’s 40s is to (1) avoid the high-cost choice of owning a car, and (2) avoiding the high-cost choice of having children. Life is a series of choices that leads a person down one path or another. Despite conventional wisdom, owning a car and having kids are choices, and I chose not to opt for either. That opened up for me a path that would not otherwise be possible: to retire young. And a path that enabled me to enjoy an extremely rich, exceptionally rewarding, and immensely happy life.
While I realize that many who have had kids say that having kids was the best thing they ever did, I firmly believe that not having kids was one of the best things I ever chose for myself, as I already pointed out above. Not having kids has meant that I have been able to avoid compromising on important values (such as living a car-free lifestyle). I have avoided suffering through the extreme difficulty of inculcating my values in my offspring (an exceptionally arduous task in our world today). I have avoided the extremely high stress and anxiety that most all parents must accept in their lives. I have avoided having to put up with the undesirable traits of children (such as the screaming, selfishness, tantrums, and intellectual immaturity). I have avoided having to sink an enormous amount of my time into child-rearing (on average, this is more than 7 hours per day). I have been able to avoid a lack of restorative time (such as when I’m sick or have been overloaded with work). I have avoided feeling guilty about bringing kids into a world where they would face a grim, dangerous future (for example, environmental decline, on-going religious irrationality, loss of low-cost energy, the decline of the American Empire). I have avoided the need to engage in severe lifestyle restrictions (such as scaling way back on travel, privacy, reading, and spontaneity). I have avoided being significantly more insecure, financially (children can often require hundreds of thousands of parental dollars to be raised). I have avoided introducing new children into a world already suffering from too many (often improperly raised) new humans. I have avoided the likely damage to the relationship with my significant other associated with child-rearing (kids mean a lot more stress, a lot less affection toward a significant other, and a lot less free time — each of these put a severe strain on the health of a relationship). And I have avoided losing several friendships (being a parent nearly always results in a loss of friendships — particularly with friends without kids). Kids are great for many others. They are not great for me. Not having kids has, for me, been very, very rewarding.
Retire Well. Retirement years can be busier than working full time. I have felt very happy and gratified in retirement, and am never bored. It occurs to me that a great many people do not adequately prepare for retirement. Too many believe that all one needs to have bliss in retirement years is to sleep late, play golf, watch TV, and lie around the house all day. After all, didn’t we love doing that on the weekend during our work years? But what I know is that for nearly all of us, playing golf and watching TV most of the time gets old very fast. After a few days, such “pursuits” are not satisfying, stimulating enough, or healthy. To enjoy a healthy, rewarding, gratifying retirement, a person needs to have cultivated pursuits and hobbies that stimulate the mind. To counteract boredom, or the mind-numbing nature of the Internet or TV, I read books and newspapers all the time, and write down my thoughts each day. I continue to enjoy hiking, socializing, skiing, bicycling, and working out at the fitness center whenever I can to enjoy physical fitness, interacting with others, and the joys of the outdoors. But pleasures of the mind are, in my opinion, the key to long-term happiness. This has kept me healthy, happy and upbeat. Not using your mind in retirement accelerates the aging of your brain and your body. It also makes one a boring person at parties.
Don’t Let Yourself Be Distracted from Life Goals. In high school and college, many of my fellow classmates had a boyfriend or girlfriend. Many participated in extracurricular activities (such as sports) that demanded a great deal of their time and effort. I noticed that many of these people let such things distract them from academics and a career. Being distracted by the opposite sex or by sports can lead to glory and envy by friends while in school, but is likely to lead to a dead-end future, as it is academics and career that most determine whether you will be happy in adulthood. Long-term happiness almost never comes from being a star athlete in high school or college. Nor does it come from enjoying a great sex life while in school. Not that either of these things should be strictly avoided. Just be careful that they do not distract you from important life goals.
I had a successful career as a high school football player in my teens. Many in my life urged me to further pursue football in college (and eventually the glamour and big salary of professional football). But even if I had a highly successful career playing football for the colleges I attended (which would have been highly unlikely), I am certain that my life has been far happier and gratifying in my adult years because I did not play football in college. Had I played football in college, and thereby distracted myself from academics, it is nearly certain that I would not have gone on to obtain a master’s degree.
Obtaining a master’s degree has brought me immense knowledge and happiness for my entire life, a rewarding career as a town and transportation planner, financial security that allowed me to retire before I turned 50, and a very happy life living in the paradise of Boulder, Colorado. As a college football player, there would have been a near certainty that my academic work would have suffered. I would have had either had a very brief career in pro ball, or more likely no career at all in the pros. Even if I played professional football for a number of years, I would be contending with the fact that the majority of pro football players ultimately file for bankruptcy. Could I have avoided that fate? In sum, obtaining a master’s degree in town planning was one of the best decisions I ever made in my life.
Yes, it is possible to be a star in sports — or highly successful with the opposite sex — and still experience a happy adulthood. But in my experience, it is extremely unlikely — unless academics can still be made the primary focus. It is the very rare person who can “have it all.”
Be a Generalist, Not a Specialist. It is much better to be a generalist than a specialist. A “Renaissance Man,” rather than an expert in one specialty. Knowing a little about a lot of things, rather than knowing a lot about a single, narrow thing. A specialist is in danger of becoming obsolete in our world. A world where increasingly, change occurs more and more rapidly. A specialist is less able to adapt to new conditions. Less able to be resilient. A specialist is often unable to see the forest for the trees. And a generalist is a more interesting conversationalist.
How does one become a generalist? Read lots of books. And have many friends. In college, obtain a degree that touches on a large number of disciplines.
On Improving Your Public Speaking Skills. Being a good public speaker is a very important skill to have if you wish to be a persuasive leader or have a successful professional career. To be a better public speaker and to avoid feeling terrified of giving a speech, strive to speak on topics you are passionate about. Topics that you are very well-versed in — so you are confident you know more than your audience. And use speech-facilitating tools, such as PowerPoint software.
Avoid Interruptions in Our Interruption-Rich World. On the topic of reading, I have come to realize that in the information-rich world we live in, we also inherently live in an interruption-rich world. I learned this from Nicholas Carr in his book, The Shallows, where he writes that we are constantly being interrupted or distracted by websites, hyperlinks, flashing messages, jarring images, noises, music, television, email, text messages and tweets. And being so incessantly distracted significantly reduces our ability to transfer information to long-term memory, to learn, to digest, or to think deep thoughts. All these interruptions are making us more stupid and less thoughtful. One of my most important ways to counteract this distracting, mind-rotting bombardment of distractions is to read as much as I can. I have found this to be good medicine for my brain.
Read Books. I have been an extremely avid reader of books for my entire life. As of age 53, I had read over 1,100 books. Reading has enabled me to acquire knowledge in a vast number of areas — I find it gratifying to know at least a little bit about a lot of things. It has also made me a relatively good conversationalist.
Write in Clear, Simple Language. When I was in graduate school, I embarrassed myself by trying to fool my professors into thinking I was smarter and more informed than I really was. Mostly, I did this by writing pretentiously. I used a lot of jargon and showy words, instead of writing simply and clearly. Early in my career, a newspaper editor scolded me in his newspaper column for using jargon in the recreation plans I wrote for my city. The crucial lesson I learned was that it is essential to write (and speak) in “Plain English.” Using jargon and showy words makes the eyes of your audience glaze over, or otherwise confuses those you are striving to inform. In particular, people without courage or leadership skills tend to hide behind jargon. Tragically, I have discovered that most documents and speeches in America — particularly those by bureaucrats — utterly fail to use Plain English. Ironically, the more you know about a subject, the more simply you can communicate about that subject. It is very difficult for a person who knows little about a field to communicate in an easily understandable way. Clearly communicating ideas in an easy-to-understand manner is one of the most essential skills that a person can develop.
On Becoming a Better Writer. Throughout my life, I have always found immense enjoyment in writing, and while I do not consider myself to be the best writer in the world, I do think that I am better than average — this despite being a rather mediocre student in grammar when I was in grade school, by the way. It is not clear to me why I enjoy writing so much, but one possible explanation is that my painful shyness — particularly when I was young — was in conflict with a burning desire I had apparently inherited from my father to have (and want to express) strong opinions. Since my shy nature usually made it too scary for me to express opinions to people face-to-face (and certainly too scary for me to give a public speech), the best way for me to express opinions “safely” as a shy person was to write down my opinions in private, and then let people read what I had written.
I still recall back in grade school that my teacher had assigned us the task of writing a short story. I penned what I thought was a stirring, well-written account of a football team winning a game in the final minutes. I was quite proud of the story, and have always regretted that the teacher never handed back the story to me after I had submitted it.
Today as I write this in retirement at age 53, I continue to enjoy writing a great deal each and every day — including weekly contributions to three “blog sites” that I maintain on the Internet. And I now make sure that I keep control over what I write by saving copies of it, rather than have it be lost by someone I’ve given it to! One reason I’ve enjoyed writing so prolifically throughout my life (writing as often as you can is a good way to learn how to write better, by the way) is that I am not a perfectionist. I do not wait to write down my thoughts until after I have perfected what I want to say. In part, this is because I want to write down thoughts that occur to me on paper before I forget them. When I quickly jot something down, as I often do, I am not concerned that what I write is not perfect, as I simply assume that I will come back to it later to polish and improve it.
Another important way to be a better writer is to read lots of books, as I have been fortunate to do.
When you write something relatively long with the intent of having it read or purchased by a large audience, hire a professional editor, as the editing will teach you a great deal about quality writing tactics.
Finally, I am quite proud of the fact that I have been able to leave a legacy of my strongly-held views regarding transportation, urban design, and quality of life by publishing two books about those topics: Road to Ruin, An Introduction to Sprawl and How to Cure It, and, The Car is the Enemy of the City. I am also a contributor to the anthology, New Urbanism and Beyond (Designing Cities for the Future). I have come to realize that writing and publishing books is not as difficult as it seems. As of the time of my writing this book, as I noted above, I have had 36 newspaper letters-to-the-editor and 30 newspaper guest columns published all over the nation.
Minimize Watching Television. For most of my adult life, I have not owned or watched television. I have therefore not been conditioned to be fearful of “crime epidemics” that most of us become irrationally hysterical about when we watch television. By not watching television, I have been less compelled to buy low-value consumer products — I have, in other words, largely avoided feeling the need to buy things I don’t need. Instead of wasting time watching television, my time is used in a much more rewarding way. I have a lot more time to improve myself through reading, socializing, lovemaking, exercise, outdoor adventures, and sleep. Television watching dulls the mind, makes a person lazier, and therefore less physically and mentally fit. It makes life more boring and degrades one’s life by taking much of the joy out of it. I have discovered that my life is enormously better because I do not own a television
Remove Red Meat from Your Diet. In the book, Diet for a Small Planet, by Frances Moore Lappe, I was so taken by the message of the book in my early college years that I started what has become a lifelong dietary preference of eliminating the consumption of red meat and reducing the consumption of dairy. Not only have many studies shown that red meat increases the likelihood of obesity, cancer and other health ills, but it also reduces physical attractiveness, and is an expensive, environmentally destructive item to have in the diet of a society. I tossed out my pathetic college-era diet of hot dogs and instant mashed potatoes, and replaced it with recipes I cooked using fresh grains, beans and vegetables. I became a relatively good cook (cooking three to five meals a week since then), and my meals became much more healthy (which made me much more fit). My meals also became much more flavorful. The book internalized the message for me that “you are what you eat.”
Use Less. For true conservation, I have come to the understanding that it is not a matter of buying green cars or buying recycled paper or buying an energy-efficient house. It is about using a car less, using less paper, reducing the times you use electricity, and living in a smaller, town center home. Sustainability does not come from better efficiency. Or better technology. Counterintuitively, the Jevons Paradox shows that increases in efficiency often results in increased rather than decreased consumption, because better efficiency reduces costs, which induces more use. In other words, buying “green” products won’t save us, even if many of us opt to use energy-efficient light bulbs or hybrid cars. Instead, we must return to a more simple, smaller, low-impact lifestyle. David Owen sees the truth in Jevons Paradox when he reports in his book The Conundrum, that “[p]romoting energy efficiency without doing anything to constrain overall energy consumption will not cause overall energy consumption to fall…[without constraining demand for energy with higher prices, efficiency improvements] merely act as a consumption amplifier.” We must find ways to effectively engage in “demand destruction” through increased taxes, increased prices, and laws.
Functional Training Rather than Machine-Based Training. I have been lifting weights to build muscle strength and maintain muscle tone since junior high school (my father discouraged me from doing so earlier in my life as he believed — rightly or wrongly — that it would stunt my growth). In 2008, I found out that it is much better to engage in what is called “functional training” rather than the “weight-machine-based training” I had engaged in for my entire life. Functional training leads to better muscular balance and joint stability (particularly important as one ages), and a decrease in the number of injuries sustained in an individual’s performance in a sport. Functional training emphasizes building “core strength,” strengthening multiple muscles, and improving actions that a person commonly engages in during a normal day, such as walking up stairs or getting in or out of a chair. Conventional training based on weight machines, by contrast, emphasizes strengthening individual muscles and often strengthens actions that are irrelevant to a person during a normal day. Almost all functional training exercises tend to be more aerobic than weight machines, and place feet on the floor (to further build core strength and balance), rather than having feet off the floor — as is the case when using most weight machines.
Get Addicted to Endorphins. Nearly all addictions — to drugs, potato chips, television, and chocolate, for example — are harmful to a person’s health and bank account. But there is at least one addiction that has significant benefits. Endorphins, which function as neurotransmitters, are produced by the pituitary gland and the hypothalamus in vertebrates during exercise. In my experience, the euphoric sensations produced by endorphins during exercise can serve as a virtuous cycle. The more I exercise, the more enjoyment I obtain from the endorphins that are released into my body during exercise. That enjoyment eventually becomes something I am somewhat addicted to, which compels me to engage in regular exercise to get more of it. I have therefore found that throughout my life, I have been happily addicted to an activity that has improved my health. Because of how pleasant I feel when my body releases endorphins, I have been fortunate to feel an antsy craving for an exercise “endorphin fix” when I go more than a day or two without exercising.
Many People are Exercising Too Much. In the book Antioxidant Revolution Kenneth Cooper taught me that a large number of Americans are shortening their lives and more frequently suffering from sickness, disease and injury because they are engaging in too much exercise and training. Certainly in America there is a big problem with many people not getting enough exercise, but the author shows that the opposite extreme is also undesirable — that there are many who engage in excessive amounts of exercise. It turns out that it is possible to do too much of a good thing. Over-exercise leads to an excessive bombardment of the body by oxidants. It is essential that physical fitness not be excessive, and that people consume sufficient amounts of anti-oxidants to combat detrimental oxidation.
Smile More Often. Life is far better if one smiles often. I regret that I never learned to exhibit that habit (even though I have almost always lived a relatively happy life).
Italy is Wonderful. The best place on earth to visit often (and perhaps to live) is Italy.
Underarm Deodorant Is Probably Unnecessary For Many of Us. As of July 2013, I have not used deodorant since 2008. This is after using it daily from age 12 until age 48. In 2006, a good friend of mine in Gainesville — Ed Brown — had informed me that he did not use underarm deodorant and could not understand why anyone would use something that was highly likely to be bad for one’s health as a way to address a trivial non-problem such as body odor. At the time, I thought to myself that I noticed his unpleasant body odor quite often, and that his odor was reducing the number of friends (and female relationships) he had. He was being foolish for taking such a “hippie” position, I concluded. But today, in the summer of 2013, I’ve gone over five years without using deodorant a single time. I’ve not detected any offensive odors since 2008. And I’m not getting complaints from girlfriends or other friends. Conclusion: I’ve decided that Ed was right all along! How stupid that so many of us fall for the marketing campaigns of deodorant companies by applying their likely unhealthy chemical concoctions to our underarms each and every day. We wrongly do this for a “problem” that is really not a problem. Particularly if we shower regularly and don’t wear the same clothes for multiple days (I also believe that nearly eliminating the amount of red meat in my diet has reduced my body odor).
The Desirable Ability to Play a Guitar. I have realized that it would be highly desirable to learn how to play guitar. I regret that I did not have the patience to learn when my father sought to teach me when I was a boy.
Paradigms and the Mind Virus. Thomas Kuhn, in his highly influential book, The Structure of Scientific Revolutions (one of the ten most influential books I have ever read), persuasively showed how the “Old Guard” who ascribe to an existing paradigm (such as the paradigm that long ago held that the sun revolves around the earth) are almost never able to be convinced that the new paradigm (in this example, that the earth revolves around the sun) is correct. The Old Guard has invested too much time and effort into the existing paradigm. To reject their paradigm is to admit that all of work in their lives has been in error, and this is too difficult to admit. No matter how overwhelming the evidence may be that the new paradigm provides better (or more accurate) answers to puzzles in that particular field of study, the Old Guard is too vested in their older paradigm to ever be convinced. Most or all of the Old Guard will go to their graves believing in their existing paradigm no matter how much evidence is produced that a new and competing paradigm is more accurate. In essence, it is only after the Old Guard has died off that a new paradigm can be widely accepted. One example of this is religious beliefs. Almost no one, regardless of their intelligence, is able to escape from religious beliefs imparted to them while children. The religion “meme” (a term coined by Richard Dawkins) is a form of mind “virus” that, like a virus, is spread from one mind to another via communication, and almost impossible to be cured of.
A meme also has evolutionary survival skills in the same sense as an adaptive, resilient species. The idea is powerful and robust enough to survive “extinction” by “propagating” itself from generation to generation.
This crucial knowledge has allowed me to realize that on many issues and fields of study (including, for example, community transportation, prohibiting drug use with laws, or that there are no gods), it is mostly a waste of my time to present information that challenges the existing paradigm. This is true even though it logically seems that presenting such overwhelming evidence would be convincing. This knowledge has allowed me to avoid “banging my head against the wall” in futile efforts to convince advocates of the existing paradigm that they are mistaken.
The Road Less Traveled. I have always strived to take the Road Less Traveled. It has made all the difference in my life.
The Golden Rule. I’ve always tried to live by the Golden Rule: “One should treat others as one would like others to treat oneself.” Or, “One should not treat others in ways that one would not like to be treated.” This concept describes a “reciprocal,” or “two-way,” relationship between one’s self and others that involves both sides equally, and in a mutual fashion. Psychologically, it involves a person empathizing with others. In general, I test myself as to whether I am upholding this principle by trying to imagine myself in the position of the other person.
The Right of Individual Liberty. On Liberty, the classic book by John Stuart Mill, taught me that my right to freedom is absolute as long as it does not infringe on the happiness of others. That my right to throw my fist, in other words, ends where another person’s nose begins. On Liberty also taught me the fundamental human right that one should be allowed to do anything that does not harm others.
The Joy and Satisfaction of Becoming an Atheist. One of the most important intellectual decisions I have ever made, and one that I am most proud of, was my decision — while in college — that I was an atheist. That there are no gods. No heaven or hell. This realization emerged at least in part by my readings of Thomas Paine (particularly his book, Age of Reason), Madalyn Murray O’Hair, Robert Ingersoll, and Bertrand Russell. Concluding there are no gods has enabled me to shed much fear in my life (I was terrified of the thought of hell as a child, and many religious adults remain fearful and childlike as adults). I have been able to live life without dysfunctional, inappropriate feelings of guilt. I have not had to feel anxiety over the worry that a “Big Daddy in the Sky” is watching my every action or thought. I have been able to avoid feeling murderous anger toward those who do not share my beliefs in a god (in my case, a Christian god). I have been able to think and behave in a mature, adult way. While I know that my parents and siblings do not believe this, I have found that most religious people think and behave like children because they believe they need a Big Daddy in the Sky to allow them to make ethical and other decisions throughout life. Most religious people believe they are worthless sinners and intellectual midgets compared to their god. Most religious believers also think their Big Daddy in the Sky will punish them if they misbehave. As Sigmund Freud once said, “when a man is freed of religion, he has a better chance to live a normal and wholesome life.” I have found that to be true in my own life.
The Christian Bible is Horrible. I have read quite a bit of the Christian Bible, and have discovered that it is filled with cruelty, pornography, murder of innocent people, terrible lessons, ignorance, superstition, greed, bloodshed, filth, violence, and intolerance. I am convinced that reading this book is an awful idea — particularly for children. It should be tossed into the wastebin of history.
Avoid Double Standards. I have always firmly believed in fairness as an ethical principle, and the avoidance of double standards. If, for example, you are a Democrat and vigorously disagree when an elected official of the Republican Party does something you don’t like, don’t look the other way if an official in your Democratic Party does the same thing. Or if you are a motorist who despises “welfare cheats” and socialism, don’t demand welfare for yourself by insisting you be able to drive and park a car without paying for using a road or parking space.
Material Conditions, Not Ideas, Drive Behavior. Marvin Harris, author of Cultural Materialism and The Rise of Anthropological Theory, convinced me that it is material conditions (such as the availability or scarcity of water and energy), as well as related price signals, that primarily determine how humans will behave. Ideas without proper conditions and prices are almost completely useless in shaping behavior, or how communities and their transportation system manifest themselves.
On July 10, 1989, I sent the following summary of my views regarding cultural materialism to a correspondent:
As a college student working toward degrees in environmental science and planning, I became convinced that human societies could become more ecologically sustainable through education. All that was needed was to ‘raise the consciousness’ of people to the harm we were doing to the ecosystem. After all, hadn’t I changed my behavior for the better after studying the environment in college? Since those rather idealistic years, I have slowly come to see that my hope for a better world was not going to be realized through a worldwide education campaign. Perhaps my idealism was influenced by my readings of the radical student movements of the 1960’s here in the United States — movements that often called for the raising of consciousness. Idealism: The power of the idea.
I had been reading other books as well: radical political thinkers such as Marx and Bookchin; radical environmentalists such as Paul Ehrlich, Garrett Hardin, Barry Commoner, and William Ophuls; and philosophers such as E.F. Schumacher and B.F. Skinner. Much of this writing was more ‘materialist’ in philosophical orientation.
When reading these idealists and materialists, I often focused on the writer’s explanation of how people behaved the way they do. Where do people’s thoughts come from? How do they make decisions? How do they come to value the things that they do?
Through such inquiry, I became increasingly convinced that people’s thoughts and behaviors were largely the result of their environment (their ‘material conditions’). In the same way that biological evolution leads to physical changes which adapt species to their environment, social evolution leads to cultural changes which adapt cultures to their environment.
Anthropologists such as Marvin Harris argue that the religion of a culture (or the preferred economic or legal system of that culture) are not the result of a great thinker who wrote down ideas in a vacuum. Cultures do not accept values, ideas, and behaviors, and then try to bend the material conditions of their existence to fit in with such ideas and behaviors.
Instead, the reverse is the case. The natural environment (or material conditions) of a community demands that certain ideas and behaviors be adopted by members of that community (thereby allowing that community to adapt to its surroundings). Only then are certain ideas and behaviors written into the cultures’ code of ethics. Only then are certain other ideas and behaviors written off as heresy.
Like biological evolution, those societies which do not, over time, adapt their norms, rules and behaviors to conform to what their natural environment requires become extinct.
For example, if water was scarce, the community would need to adopt rituals, taboos, or secular laws against water waste. If the economic system is dependent on economic growth, then those individuals and corporations who value greed, power, and abuse of the environment will be most successful. Thus, taboos against water waste are probably not based on a divine command from the water god. Americans are not greedy, selfish consumers because Adam Smith is right (and Karl Marx is wrong) about human nature. These ideas and behaviors exist because they are adaptive to the environment that people live in.
And those societies that live in an arid region which do not adapt their norms, rules and behaviors to conform to water scarcity (or oil or food depletion) become extinct.
What, then, can be done to improve the ecological viability of our communities? If we accept the above premises, I believe the first step is to make sure individuals of the community are able to see what sorts of undesirable impacts we are having on our environment. If we are blind to these environmental impacts, there will be no signals to tell us that our culture must adapt. We are then doomed to repeat the well-known historical cycle of ‘intensification of production, and depletion of environmental resources’ (leading, of course, to the collapse of the community).
There are many ways in which we blind ourselves to environ-mental impacts. Economists refer to such blinding as ‘externalities.’ We know that corporations are notorious for externalizing the costs of their production. Instead of paying these costs themselves (‘internalizing’ costs), they let society pay the costs (‘externalizing’). For example, fast-food restaurants will use Styrofoam packaging for their products, instead of more expensive bio-degradable packaging. Rather than internalizing the cost of packaging by using packages that are environmentally benign, they externalize the cost (and thereby let society pay through such environmental damage as ozone destruction, or littering).
Interestingly enough, those nasty private-sector corporations are not the only ones externalizing costs.
Communities and individuals are also guilty. Many cities are known for passing off their costs to other communities. City ‘A’ will enjoy the benefits of low-cost sewage treatment or landfill disposal by passing the costs on to City ‘B’ downstream or down the road. City ‘B’ then bears the cost of City ‘A’s’ behavior. City ‘B’ pays to clean the water polluted by City ‘A’, or pays to protect their groundwater from the toxic chemicals City ‘A’ has dumped in City ‘B’s’ landfill.
Individuals, many of whom are self-proclaimed ‘environmentalists,’ happily drive their air-conditioned autos to destinations that they could have reached by bus, bike, or foot. They are oblivious to the fact that their auto behavior causes more environmental damage to our cities than any other single factor. They would rather have society pay the costs of auto pollution, than have to internalize the costs of their transportation.
There are several strategies that can be used to remove these environmental blinders; strategies that will help us to internalize costs, and therefore speed the process of cultural adaptation.
For example, user fees can be employed. Communities need to determine the approximate cost of pollution from various products and behaviors. How much does it cost a community to keep auto batteries from being dumped into the landfill, where they can pollute groundwater? How much does it cost to remove toxic chemicals used to make photographic supplies from a river? If we can calculate these costs, we can more equitably levy a ‘user fee’ (sometimes called a ‘pollution tax’) on the manufacture or purchase of a product or service. The fee would help remove environmental blinders (per-haps there should be a message written on the product label: ‘This product carries a pollution tax to defray the cost of disposing of the product’). Some possible fees: gas tax, supermarket package fee, household cleaner fee, etc.
The day-to-day decisions made by corporations, communities, and individuals are based on cost/benefit analyses. For corporations and communities, costs are usually measured in dollars (‘we’ll pollute the air or allow developers to destroy a wildlife habitat as long as it is more profitable than to do otherwise’). For individuals, costs are typically measured by an assessment of convenience and peer group acceptance (‘I’ll litter the highway as long as it is more convenient than waiting to find a garbage can’).
Our task, then, is to increase dollar costs and levels of inconvenience for those behaviors that are environmentally damaging. Or vice versa, we should be decreasing costs and increasing levels of convenience for behaviors that are environmentally acceptable.
For any desirable societal behavior change we seek, the most effective form of educating people to behave differently is to modify material conditions such as the cost of doing certain things. If we want people to do less of something (such as driving a car), we should not rely on educating them with words or images. We should educate them by increasing the cost or inconvenience of driving a car.
To Use Violence and a Sex-Negative Attitude When Raising Children is Toxic. The Mass Psychology of Fascism, by Wilhelm Reich, persuasively showed me that the way a society raises its children has a profound influence over the conditions and behavior of a society in the future. Despite the conventional wisdom, an aggressively disciplinary manner of raising children (commonly by using religious child-rearing tactics), and an aggressively anti-sex upbringing leads to an adult and societal psychology that is (1) militaristic; (2) oriented toward abusive and prison-based criminal justice rather than rehabilitation and correction of crime-causing social problems; (3) violent; (4) gun-based; (5) sexually dysfunctional; (6) imperialistic; (7) arrogantly exceptionalist; (8) prone to double standards; and (9) prone to high rates of STDs, teen pregnancy, and unwanted teen pregnancy. Similarly, in an article entitled Body Pleasure and the Origins of Violence, author James Prescott showed through cross-cultural studies that there was a strong connection between a society which takes an anti-sex and pro-punishment stance (particularly with children) and high levels of violence in that society. As Pliny the Elder once said, “what we do to our children they will do to society.”
A Sex-Positive Outlook on Life is Highly Beneficial. Largely due to my reading Wilhelm Reich’s books, as well as my own experience, I now realize that an essential path for individual and societal health is to adopt and promulgate a sex-positive outlook on life. Rather than feeling guilty, ashamed and ignorant of sex, I am convinced that frequent, playful, open, informed, sharing sexuality is extremely important for society, for relationships, as well as for individuals. I believe that it is best that parents be fully open and tolerant of teen sex, including permitting teen sex at home. I am also convinced that American society must significantly increase sex education in schools (sex-negative preaching using such programs as “abstinence-based” sex education should never be used in schools). In addition, contraception should be made widely available and as free as possible, as should testing for sexually-transmitted disease. Prostitution should be fully legal (and therefore made much safer through its regulation). Positive and pleasurable sexual depictions in the media should be significantly increased. Same-sex unions and marriages should be fully tolerated and given the same rights as opposite-sex unions and marriages.
America’s Anti-Sex Attitude Creates Enormous Problems. In his book, America’s War on Sex, Marty Klein convincingly showed that America is exceedingly anti-sex and prudish compared to other nations. Successful efforts by American anti-sex forces to suppress sex education in schools, censor sexual depictions in the media, aggressively criminalize or castigate victim-less sexuality, punish children for harmless childhood experimentation with sex, ban contraception, and trumpet falsehoods about sexuality have ironically induced the highest levels of teen pregnancy, abortion, sexually-transmitted diseases in the developed world, and has led to enormous levels of dysfunctional and twisted sex for teens and adults.
Relationships & Sexuality
Relationship Success Requires Similar Levels of Attraction. I have discovered that the most successful, long-term recipe for happiness in a relationship is for each person in the relationship to have a similar level of attraction to the other. While it may at first feel wonderful to be in a relationship with someone who obsessively loves you so much that the person worships the ground you walk on, if this high level of love is not reciprocated by the other person (in other words, there is a significant imbalance in the level of love felt by each person in the relationship), the relationship will likely end soon. In my own life, I have found that if someone loves me very deeply but I am only moderately attracted to her, a toxic psychological dynamic forms. I am likely to think to myself, She is madly in love with me because she is “beneath” me. I should find someone who is “in my league.” The smitten partner is likely to feel they are “beneath” me, and therefore either feel unworthy (and perhaps overly jealous), or will work overtime to show that she is “worthy.” Similarly, if I am madly in love with a woman yet she is not particularly in love with me, it is likely that the relationship will not last long.
The Importance of Romantic Skills. To enjoy life more, one should learn to be romantic, to be a good kisser, and to be skilled in love-making. In my experience, it is important to understand that women are always right (at least in a contra dance). It is important to be able to read a woman’s mind so that you do not anger her. In part, this is done by reading her body language or tone of voice. It is important to hold her hand and give her a hug when she needs one. And it is essential that you regularly compliment a woman and tell her you love her. It is important to properly answer the question that women commonly ask and most all men fear: “What are you thinking?” It is important to remember important dates such as anniversaries. It is important to be generous and funny. It is important to do the heavy lifting. It is important to know that when a woman says there is nothing bothering her, that she really means there is something bothering her. It is important to be patient, as women take a lot longer to get ready than men do.
“Even Though” Makes Sex Better. Sex is much more enjoyably exciting when it is done “even though.” For example, “even though” sex occurs when a couple so desperately craves sex that they will have sex even though they might get caught or heard by others, even though one or both partners are gorgeous, even though one or both partners don’t seem like “the kind of people who would have sex (due to extreme intelligence, for example),” or even though the couple is having sex in a very uncomfortable setting.
You Can Almost Never Change a Your Significant Other. A great many people — myself included — make the mistake while courting a romantic interest that if the person has an undesirable trait, it will be possible to change that trait once the relationship progresses to marriage or another form of long-term, exclusive commitment. For example, one may be dating a person who has the unfortunate trait of disliking dancing. Or being messy. Or watching too much television. It is quite common to believe that such undesirable traits can be overlooked, because it is believed that those traits can be changed after the couple commits to each other in a long-term relationship. But in my experience, it is nearly impossible to change most traits that a person displays during courtship. Either you must decide that you can live with the traits in the long-term, or end the relationship before commitment begins, because it is almost always naïve to believe that a trait can be changed once the couple commits to a long-term relationship. Too many relationships end in divorce or break-up because a person initially believes the trait can be changed later on, only to discover that most all traits will persist despite the most vigorous efforts to change the trait.
Email Security. My friend Steve Manning gave me some extremely important relationship wisdom: Don’t let your girlfriend (or boyfriend) read your email. This is a good idea even in the most loving relationships where “there is nothing to hide.” Why? Because it is too easy to incorrectly misinterpret innocent, friendly banter in an email as evidence of an affair (either physical or emotional), or a meaningful, romantic flirtation. Reading the email of a significant other — particularly when that person writes a great deal of email — is essentially equivalent to reading the mind of that person, and no relationship can survive one partner being able to read the mind of the other partner.
America’s Electoral System Is Broken. The “two-party” political system in America (Republicans and Democrats) is utterly corrupt. At the age of 52, I came to the tragic conclusion that I can never vote again for a major-party candidate for president. Hyper-partisanship and the corrupting influence of major campaign contributions and lobbying has led to a near paralysis in elected officials making needed decisions to address societal problems. Promoting the party has become more important than correcting national problems. I recently prepared a list of over 20 of what I consider to be the most crucial actions that need to be taken by America. Not a single one of these items has even been mentioned by a Democratic or Republican presidential candidate in over 35 years.
The Unconditional U.S. Support for the Criminal Israeli Government. In the book, The Israel Lobby and U.S. Foreign Policy, by Mearsheimer and Walt, the authors pointed out that America has been powerfully manipulated by the Israeli lobby to unconditionally support any action or desire by the Israeli government, no matter how heinous. This has been done by leveraging feelings of guilt over what happened to the Jews in Nazi Germany, and by promiscuously and often unfairly labeling any disagreement with Israel to be an example of “anti-Semitism.” Such charges and manipulation of guilt squelches even a hint of disapproval for Israeli actions. It has led the U.S. to veto any action by the United Nations which is anything less than fully supportive of Israel (even if the Israeli action is clearly a crime against humanity or United Nations provisions). It has led the U.S. to provide excessive military, diplomatic and financial support to Israel. It has led to the forgiving of Israeli preemptive strikes — militarism that would in no way be tolerated by international law. It has led, therefore, to numerous double standards with regard to national conduct. It has led to the emergence of a completely one-sided, pro-Israel U.S. media, and the full censorship of any comments that raise questions about Israel. It has led to the censoring and sacking of professors who are not fully supportive of Israel in American universities, and the shouting down of public speakers who question Israel. One of the great ironies of world history, then, is that Israel has, for decades, behaved much like other racist regimes throughout history. In the book, The Transparent Cabal, by Stephen Sniegnoski, the author taught me much the same thing: that the U.S. has gotten itself trapped in the on-going world atrocity of sup-porting the nation of Israel unconditionally. No matter how heinous the action of Israel (and there have been countless atrocities committed by the Israelis — particularly apartheid against the Palestinians), the U.S. invariably supports all Israeli actions and provides immense financial and military support. The U.S. is therefore complicit in the crimes by Israel.
America Is Not Prepared for Empire Collapse. In the book, Reinventing Collapse, by Dmitry Orlov, the author showed that unlike the Soviet Union when it collapsed in the 1990s, America is relatively unprepared for the collapse of American civilization, as we Americans have largely lost the ability to accomplish even the most basic things on our own. We must hire others to grow our food, fix our car or bicycle, deliver coal or wood or electricity to us, repair our furniture, deliver warm and cold air to our homes, and help us when we are sick. A collapse of the American economy, therefore, is likely to be much more grim than the agony of what happened in the Soviet Union.
The American Political Consensus that Militarism is Good. In the book The New American Militarism, by Andrew Bacevich, I discovered that there is a political consensus in America, since the 1980s, that militarism is good, and that America should spend large sums of public dollars on militarism each year. Both the Democratic and Republican Parties fervently believe this.
All Wars Are Claimed to be Moral and Just. In the book, The Morality Wars, by Charles Derber and Yale Magrass, I realized that nearly all wars in history, including actions by the Roman Empire, Imperial Japan, and the imperialistic British Empire, have been proclaimed by the instigators as wars needed to bring peace, democracy, rescue from tyranny, freedom and civilization to the nation where the fighting and bombing occurs (including all militarism engaged in by the U.S.). These wars were called “moral” as a way to garner more support from the populace of the aggressor nation. And yet, only a vanishingly small number of such military actions were actually the real reason the aggression was started, and almost no aggression actually achieved such lofty objectives. Due to repeated statements from the leadership, Nazi Germany convinced many of its citizens that Nazi militarism in World War II was not genocidal aggression — that it was, instead, “defense of the Fatherland.” Similarly, the governments of both the United States and Israel regularly justify the many wars of aggression they have and continue to engage in (which thereby provides important citizen support) by claiming to bring freedom and democracy to the nations they attack, or to protect against “terrorism.”
War Does Not Mean Peace. In the book 1984, by George Orwell, the author showed that America possesses many of the dystopian, grim traits portrayed in that novel, where an overly paternalistic government cloaks widespread torture, surveillance, and elimination of basic civil rights with propaganda that strives to assure citizens that such an overwhelming, suffocating, unstoppable government is only here to “help” us or “fight terrorism,” or “provide security.” Message: that the overpowering propaganda of government can easily lead even intelligent, kind, ethical people to spy on their neighbors, turn them in, and happily accept outrageous government suppression (one wit has called such surveyors “kindly inquisitors”) — all in the name of “promoting a better, safer life.” The loss of individualism or civil rights, and the rise of paternalistic “group think,” where “war means peace” and “suspicion breeds trust” is terrifyingly increasing each year.
Guerrilla Warfare is Nearly Impossible to Defeat. In The War of the Flea, by Robert Taber, I discovered that it is almost impossible for a nation to defeat an enemy engaged in guerrilla warfare against it. Even if your nation has overwhelming military superiority over your enemy, and even if your enemy is a tiny and weak nation. Most of us have failed to learn this lesson, despite what has happened repeatedly over the years. Such as America and France in Vietnam, Iraq and Afghanistan; the Soviets in Afghanistan; the British fighting American colonists; and the American proxy war against the Nicaraguan contras.
Dropping the Atomic Bombs in Japan was Unnecessary and a War Crime. I have determined that Americans were unjustified and barbaric when its leaders decided to drop atomic bombs in Japan in WWII. The Japanese were a floundering nation on the verge of surrender when the bombs were dropped. Nearly all American military commanders believed the Japanese were about to surrender before the bombs were dropped, and believed an American ground invasion of Japan would be unnecessary. Within the first two to four months of the bombings, the over 200,000 civilians were killed in Hiroshima and Nagasaki.
The Death Penalty is Barbaric and Must Be Abolished. Despite the conventional wisdom, the death penalty is more costly than life imprisonment, does not meaningfully reduce crime, and is a form of counterproductive barbarism. America must join the civilized world and abolish the death penalty.
The Devastating Boondoggle of America’s War on Drugs. In the book, Why Our Drug Laws Have Failed, by James Gray, the author pointed out that because the drug war is such a complete failure, even formerly hard-line drug warriors on the political right can come to understand that the War on Drugs is a highly counterproductive downward spiral that worsens drug (and other) problems. People can overcome the “drug war meme” I mention above, in very rare circumstances. It is now irrefutable that the War on Drugs has resulted in abusive criminal justice, prisons bulging with non-violent offenders, skyrocketing and unaffordable enforcement costs at the local, state and federal level, large amounts of organized crime and drug-related violence, and the militarization of local police. This “war” has become a destructive boondoggle, as America has also ended up with substantially higher levels of drug use, lower cost and more dangerously unregulated drugs, corruption of elected officials, prison staff and police, and obscenely wealthy drug and powerful dealers. Drug regulation, harm reduction, drug treatment, and rehabilitation for users are far more beneficial for society than punitive drug prohibition laws, violence, imprisonment, and enforcement. America must move away from a prohibition and punishment model.
Even the Most Kind People Have the Potential to be Cruel. Stanley Milgram’s book Obedience to Authority conclusively showed that even the most ethical and humane of us can engage in the most heinous atrocities against others when we are told to do so by authority figures.
Professional Town & Transportation Planning
Make People Happy, Not Cars. One of the most important lessons I discovered as a town planner was back in 1989 (three years after I started my career as a town planner) was that the key to community quality of life and sustainability is to return to the timeless tradition of designing communities and roads to make people happy, not cars. Since the early part of the 20th Century, America has almost single-mindedly devoted itself to making cars happy, rather than people. Happy conditions for cars always create unhappy conditions for people. Cities are dying because to be healthy, they need to be compact, clustered and walkable. In particular, a healthy town center needs a quality pedestrian environment, low motor vehicle speeds, modestly-sized dimensions for streets, short distances to destinations, and small (or no) building setbacks. Yet a car-dependent society has inevitably delivered to America the deadly “gigantism” disease — the dispersing, centrifugal forces of huge and high-speed highways, huge asphalt parking lots, unwalkable places, a loss of human-scaled charm, and social isolation. “Gigantism” inevitably occurs in a car-dependent society because a person sitting in a car takes up 17 times as much space as a person sitting in a chair, and because car travel enables conveniently high-speed, long distance travel. When most all of us are traveling by car, then, our per capita space requirements explode exponentially. This enormous space consumption means that it is impossible for an attractive, growing, healthy community to eliminate traffic congestion, because it only takes a tiny number of motorists to congest a road. This several-decades-long focus on making cars happy, therefore, has ruined quality of life, sustainability, and civic pride in America.
The Pedestrian is the Design Imperative. When it comes to designing communities — particularly the town center of a community — I have come to find out that the pedestrian is the design imperative. Designing for people who walk must come before everything else: before the handicapped, before bicyclists, before transit users, and before motorists. If we get design right for people walking, an enormous number of other quality of life attributes inevitably fall into place on their own for the neighborhood or community. A high-quality design for walking is therefore the lynchpin for a high quality of life.
The Importance of “Road Diets” and Motorist User Fees. In my 26 years as a town and transportation planner, I have discovered that there is almost nothing that is more beneficial for a community than converting four-lane roads to three lanes — or any other form of “road diet” where travel lanes are removed. Taking away space allocated to cars — via road diets, smaller parking lots, turning lane removal, or shrinking the width of car travel lanes — is essential for a better community future. It is also extremely important to directly charge motorists a fee to park or drive on roads. The paradox is that our communities are significantly better as we make car travel more expensive and less convenient, and yet there is nothing that Americans will fight more violently against than enacting these car-restricting actions.
Traffic Congestion Regulates Itself. Despite the conventional wisdom, I have discovered that traffic congestion is self-regulating if the community does not try to eliminate it by widening roads. Congestion does not get infinitely and endlessly worse if nothing is done about it. Permanent gridlock is not reached because, if left alone, congestion regulates itself. That is, the “triple convergence” starts working in reverse as congestion reaches a certain point of motorist intolerance. Motorists who are frustrated by congestion (1) start driving alternative routes to get to their destination; (2) start driving at non–rush hour times; or (3) become bus riders, bicyclists, or pedestrians.
Because of the “time (and frustration) tax” that congestion imposes, only those who feel they must drive a car on a congested road during rush hour continue to do so. This natural car trip reduction occurs in all communities throughout the country once a threshold of intolerance for congestion is reached — unless, of course, the self-regulation is short-circuited by road widening, which just puts off the day of reckoning — eventually producing an even larger number of congested cars than were on the road before the widening occurred. In part, switching to travel by bus, bicycle, or foot is achieved as some motorists, over the long term, relocate to a closer, more in-town home so that it is easier to bus, bicycle, or walk.
In a growing city, with growing car use and growing traffic congestion, our only choice on an un-tolled road is whether we prefer a congested two-lane, congested four-lane, or a congested six-lane road. If widening stops, the community will not have worse congestion than if the community continued to widen the road. Congestion will not be eliminated or even reduced if more travel lanes are added. Unless the community is in decline, a city can never build streets wide enough to eliminate congestion or enlarge free-to-use parking lots enough to eliminate parking shortages, no matter how much is spent.
The fundamental lesson is this: as a result of enormous public subsidies for car travel (primarily road widenings and free parking), a large number of “low-value” car trips are encouraged and enabled (the trip across town during rush hour to rent a video, for example). Certainly, it is poor public policy to encourage low-value car trips on expensive public roads. One important reason, then, why road widening worsens congestion rather than reduces it is that widening creates new car trips that would have never occurred had we not widened the road.
Widening a road by adding travel lanes or turn lanes is ruinous. Doing so worsens congestion, bankrupts a community, destroys the community town center, accelerates sprawl, raises taxes, worsens public health, increases obesity, lowers civic pride, reduces walking, bicycling and transit use, increases air pollution and fuel consumption, increases stress and anger, and worsens quality of life. No force on earth — not wise and courageous leaders, or strong town development regulations and plans, or citizen vigilance — can stop the ruinous, sprawling, car-happy and people-unhappy juggernaut once a road is widened. The fact that America has aggressively and single-mindedly spent trillions of public dollars over the past 100 years to widen roads shows quite clearly that we have become our own worst enemies.
The Ruinous Consensus of Fighting for Free-Flowing Traffic. There is a disastrous consensus in America. A consensus that includes a large number of environmentalists and many others who seek a better quality of life for themselves and their community. It is the consensus that mistakes free-flowing traffic with quality of life. By engaging in this tragic blunder, environmentalists and others advocating for a better, smarter future unintentionally join forces with the road, car and sprawl lobby to argue that traffic congestion is a bad thing.
However, not only does free-flowing traffic fail to contribute to a better quality of life. Free-flowing traffic is a powerful recipe for destroying quality of life. And yet in America, fighting congestion is a bipartisan consensus. There are no politically meaningfully individuals or groups who proclaim, counter-intuitively and yet rightly, that for cities, traffic congestion is a very good thing in many of ways. For example, in cities, congestion effectively induces in-town development, redevelopment, efficiently taller buildings, less car use, more walking/bicycling/transit travel, healthier in-town retail by smaller and locally-owned business, more density, more compact development, more migration from remote to more sustainable in-town locations, less severe crashes, less air pollution and gas consumption — at the regional level, and more political support for non-car travel.
Motorists have interests that are almost diametrically opposite of all other travelers (walkers, bicyclists, transit users, children, seniors), and almost universally, tactics to ease traffic flow powerfully degrade community value and civic pride.
Striving to reduce traffic congestion, then, significantly harms transportation choice, which means that most all of us end up being forced to depend on cars for all our trips. A quality town center is only achieved when pedestrians feel welcomed and cars feel like intruders. As a result of the consensus view that we should aggressively fight congestion and instead promote free flowing traffic, Americans have, once again, become their own worst enemy.
The Travel Time Budget. Throughout history and cross-culturally, the average round-trip commute time is 1.1 hours. Humans are hard-wired to have such a “travel time budget.” Crucially, this means that the faster we travel, the larger our communities inevitably become. The slower we travel, the more compact our communities become. This happens because people, on average, seek to live in such a way as to the travel time equilibrium of 1.1 hours, and in the long run will live, on average, in a location that provides such a travel time. Because of this, road widening inevitably disperses (sprawls) our communities.
Road Widening and the Law of Diminishing Returns. While widening roads (widening from, say two lanes to four lanes) early in the 20th Century often provided enormous societal benefits in terms of travel and commerce, widening roads has now become, in general, severely detrimental to society. In other words, adjusted for inflation, every dollar spent on road widening today returns much less benefit to society than it formerly did. Today, every dollar spent to widen a road to four lanes, or six lanes, or eight lanes results in significant financial, social, health, public safety, and quality of life losses. And again, because such widening induces new car trips that would not have occurred had we not widened, traffic congestion (and suburban sprawl) quickly become worse than it was before the widening in a few short years.
The Zero-Sum Game. Too many people naively believe there are win-win solutions for transportation. There are not. Transportation is a zero-sum game. We cannot widen a road or add turning lanes or add more car parking or remove on-street parking or widen travel lanes, and at the same time improve walking, bicycling or transit. Why? Because when we make such road modifications to “improve” car travel, we inevitably make it much more difficult and unsafe to walk, bicycle or use transit. As Enrique Penalosa once said, “A city can be friendly to people or it can be friendly to cars, but it can’t be both.” If cars win, walking, bicycling and transit lose.
Attentive Streets are Better than Forgiving Streets. “Forgiving” street design — which nearly all American traffic engineers have employed for a century to create more safety — actually creates less road safety. This is because “forgiving” streets “forgive” a motorist for driving too fast or too inattentively (street trees are removed, road shoulders are increased in size, roads are widened, for example). The result of “forgiving” street design, therefore, is that motorists increasingly drive too fast or too inattentively — because they are now forgiven for doing so. A crucial method for designing safer streets, then, is to design what I call “attentive” streets, which obligate the motorist to drive more slowly and more attentively. Safety signs, markings and warning lights should be minimized or eliminated. To best design attentive streets, emphasis is placed on providing on-street parking, buildings pulled up to the sidewalk, mid-block pedestrian crossings, and street trees pulled up to the curb.
The Give-Way Street is the Best Street. I have discovered that the best neighborhood street design is a “Give Way” street: a two-way street with on-street parking. The street is not wide enough for two “opposing direction” cars to pass each other without one car “giving way” to the other car. This design induces neighborhood-friendly slow speeds and safely attentive driving. In my experience, the most expensive homes are found on Give Way streets, which exemplifies the desirability of such streets.
Convert One-Way Streets Back to Two-Way Streets. Converting one-way streets back to two-way streets provides a large number of significant benefits. Slower and more attentive driving. Less motorist confusion and wasteful back-tracking. Reduced number of crashes. Better retail and residential health. Less suburban sprawl. More equitable distribution of car trips. Improved comfort for pedestrians and bicyclists. Less motorist hostility and impatience. A growing number of communities are converting one-way streets back to their traditional two-way operation due to the growing recognition of these conversion benefits.
Street Connectivity is an Extremely Beneficial Tactic. Gridded or otherwise connected streets provide enormous transportation benefits for a neighborhood and its community. Disconnecting streets with cul-de-sacs and dead end streets, by contrast, create severe transportation problems. When disconnections occur, trips by car, bicycle, walking, and transit become longer (mostly due to the substantial increase in “backtracking” that occurs). Service trips for such things as garbage collection and mail delivery become much more inefficient and costly. Because disconnected streets dump all car trips on one or a few major streets, rather than equitably dispersing trips on most or all streets, major streets are unfairly burdened by more than their fair share of trips, which is toxic to residences, shops, walking and bicycling along such streets. These major streets quickly become congested, and widening them by adding new and extremely expensive travel lanes is often unavoidable. Because disconnected streets substantially increase walking and bicycling distances (as well as increasing danger for such trips), walking and bicycling decline substantially.
The Self-Perpetuating Vicious Cycle. The more dependent we and our communities become on cars, the more trapped we are in a grim future, because designing our communities for car travel creates in us a strong vested interest in endlessly continuing to improve conditions for cars. That makes for a self-perpetuating downwardly spiraling vicious cycle. The more we design for cars, the harder it is to travel without a car. Which forces us to do even more to design our community for cars. Endlessly. And the more we design for cars, the worse our community quality of life becomes. This growth in community support for happy car design induces elected officials to become populists for car cheerleading. Happy cars come first and everything else (environment, business, education, recreation, children) come second. In these ways, we inescapably foul our own nest and become our own worst enemies.
Taking Away From Cars is Essential. Friend and colleague Michael Ronkin has reinforced my experience that if we want more people to bicycle, walk or use transit, it is not a matter or providing new bike lanes/paths, new sidewalks, or more and better transit. It is about taking away road and parking space from what we provide for the car. To be effective, then, we need to put roads on a “road diet” (by, for example shrinking a four-lane road to three lanes). We need to reduce the number of car parking spaces (particularly free surface parking) and pricing the parking that remains. We also need to increase the gas tax and apply tolls to more roads. In sum, we need to restore balance by fairly charging motorists for the things they use (i.e., applying a user fee) and affect (such as air and water quality), and increasing the inconvenience of driving a car. We must do this to restore a more compact, safe, calm, lovable human scale — cars consume excessive amounts of space. Therefore, if motorists are not inconvenienced, the world feels okay for cars but miserable for people — a recipe for community ruin.
By far, the biggest subsidy in America is free car parking. One of the most important reasons why most all Americans drive a car for nearly all trips, rather than bicycle, walk or use transit, is that over 98 percent of all car trips are to locations with free and abundant parking. As Donald Shoup points out in The High Cost of Free Parking, free (and abundant) parking is a fertility drug for cars.
Town Centers Have Too Much Parking. Because we provide car parking so inefficiently, nearly all American cities provide too much town center parking, rather than the conventional, common, and inaccurate perception that there is too little parking in a downtown.
Economic Development is Now a Win-Win Proposition. In his book The Rise of the Creative Class, Richard Florida teaches that there has been a reversal in the way in which economic development is achieved in America. In the past, cities sought to attract businesses with low taxes, lax development regulations, and subsidies. People looking for jobs would move to the communities where the well-paying jobs were offered by such companies. Today, it is mostly the reverse, and happily it is a win-win scenario. Today, high-quality, highly educated job seekers (the Creative Class) much more often seek out not a job, but a quality community they would like to live in.
For the Creative Class, desirable cities have a high quality of life, a vibrant town center with lively nightlife, transportation choices, a physically fit population, cultural amenities and tolerance of a broad range of lifestyles. Many quality employers seek to relocate to communities sought by the Creative Class (businesses, in a reverse of past practices, are now chasing after employees). Businesses seek to be in such communities, even if taxes are high and development regulations are strict, because they know that in cities sought after by the Creative Class, the business will be able to attract and retain quality employees. Economic development is no longer a matter of the community acting like a “doormat” to attract businesses (which is harmful to quality of life for existing residents of the community). Instead, the most effective economic development is achieved by those communities which most effectively provide a high quality of life (as sought after by the Creative Class). This is a win-win proposition, because quality of life not only attracts quality businesses, but also benefits existing community residents.
Along these lines, the most important lesson I learned in my brief time as a town planner for Boulder, Colorado was that quality of life is a powerful — and self-perpetuating — economic engine. For instance, despite the fact that the process of proposing new residential or commercial development in Boulder was relatively torturous, property owners and their developers had eagerly and aggressively sought (and continue to seek) to develop in Boulder for many decades. Three examples of such aggressiveness were that first, when I left my Boulder job in 1997, people were so desperate to build homes that they were happy to pay tens of thousands of dollars — in a program I helped set up and administered — to be given permission to build sooner. The money was used by the City to help provide affordable housing. And second, the City was also actively seeking to reduce job growth. Unlike any other city, Boulder felt it had too many jobs. Finally, Boulder’s high quality of life has made the cost of housing in Boulder the fifth most expensive in the nation.
In the Past, Developers Were Admirable Heroes. Unlike in contemporary times, where developers are hated by nearly everyone, we once lived in a world several decades ago where developers were heroes that nearly all of us admired and looked up to. The reason for this radical change is that formerly, developers generally built communities to make people happy. But several decades ago, the development pattern changed to one where developers only build to make cars happy. And cars and people have significantly different needs. People tend to despise places that are over-designed for cars (in contrast to places that convenience and reward people). Indeed, places that inconvenience cars tend to be places most of us love, as they tend to be compact, walkable, human-scaled, romantic places.
Healthy Cities are Densifying Cities. In the book Cities in Full, author Steve Belmont showed me that relatively dense cities are the healthiest, most creative and intellectually alive of all cities. When cities are not becoming more dense, it is a sign of a sick city. “Agglomeration economies,” which arise when mutually supportive commercial, retail or industrial community activities are synergistically clustered together in a compact, dense manner, are essential for city vitality. Loss of agglomeration economies occurs when activities are spread out. This happens when city densities decline (or remain stable), when roads are widened, when car parking (particularly surface parking) replaces or disperses buildings, and when buildings are only one- or two stories in height (five is a maximum for retaining human scale).
Design Communities for All Lifestyle Choices. Most all communities have development regulations that are “one-size-fits-all.” And that one size is to provide for the suburban, drivable lifestyle. To promote transportation and lifestyle choices equitably, and to promote sustainability and quality of life, communities should tailor their development regulations so that they occur on an urban to rural transect. Such a context-sensitive approach offers a walkable and compact lifestyle in the town center, a drivable and more spacious lifestyle in the suburbs, and a farm- and preservation-based lifestyle in the rural areas. In a town center, “more is better” (more development or density). In the suburban and rural areas, “more is less” (more development lowers the quality of the suburban and rural lifestyle).
America Has Thrown Away the Timeless Traditions. In the book Home From Nowhere, by James Howard Kunstler, I was taught that America has abandoned the timeless traditions of building lovable places which induce civic pride in communities. We are building clownish, unsustainable, dysfunctional places without a future, and thereby leaving a community legacy that future generations will despise our generation for creating. We have not only stopped building lovable places, but made the construction of them illegal. We cannot build what are called “sustainable” or “smart growth” neighborhoods. We cannot build a Nantucket or a Martha’s Vineyard or a Charleston, South Carolina, or a Savannah, Georgia, or an Annapolis, Maryland, or a charming, walkable historic neighborhood. Lovable places are unachievable because our laws, our banks, and our elected officials say there is not enough parking. The streets are too narrow. The setbacks are too small. The distance to the corner market is too short. And so on. We have met the enemy, and she or he is us. Instead, gigantic roads, huge parking lots, and Big Box retailers have destroyed American communities and any hope for a tolerable future.
Modernist Architecture is a Failed Paradigm. In my opinion, “modernist” building architecture is an utterly bankrupt, failed design paradigm that is ruining our cities by making a great many buildings completely unlovable — thereby undermining civic pride. Traditional or classical architecture, on the other hand, relies on timeless design principles that have stood the test of time over the course of human civilization. Design that we have learned over the ages is one for which humans have great affection and pride. By stark contrast, modernism throws away such timeless principles and replaces them with the leading imperative of modernism: to be innovative. Such a design approach is utterly arrogant, as it assumes that the designer can conceive of a new design which will be loved by most, and far into the future. Such innovation also commonly leads to buildings that are leaky when it rains, have poor or wasteful energy conservation designs, or use building materials that are non-durable or exotic. Supplementing the obsession with innovation, the modernist also strives to achieve a “look-at-me” building style that comes from the bizarre, incompatible nature of the building. This approach is in direct conflict with the fundamental urban design principle which holds that only important civic buildings, such as a town hall, should be designed in a “look-at-me” style. When a great many buildings are “look-at-me” buildings, the community becomes chaotic. The needed rhythm, legibility and fabric of the community are lost when less important buildings stand out as prominently as important civic buildings. Because there is nothing more dated than yesterday’s vision of tomorrow, modernist buildings become embarrassing, unloved structures that many in a community would like to see quickly demolished. Compounding this problem is that modernist buildings tend to lack ornamentation, articulation, and detail, which creates boring, stark, blank walls. According to opinion polls, referendums and the housing market across Europe, 70 to 90 percent of the population prefers traditional architecture, if they are given a choice. Andres Duany has said that he finds it tragic that
“…30 million (or so) modernist buildings of ‘regrettable’ quality… have destroyed the world’s cities and marred landscapes that looked just fine with traditional buildings. There are so few good modernist buildings that when asked to visit one, it usually requires a long time to think of one, and some substantial distance to travel. To find a bad modernist building it is usually possible to stay put and turn your head a bit. On the other hand, to find a bad traditional building requires real research. The ratio is utterly lopsided. In no other endeavor would such a dismal record be tolerated. A lawyer losing cases at that rate would have no clients, and a doctor would be considered a mass murderer, but architecture is somehow exempt from that sort of assessment…”
Steve Mouzon describes traditional architecture as “[an idea that] begins as a great idea by a single person, who then builds the idea. If the built idea resonates with enough other people (‘I care what the people think’) they repeat it and it becomes a local pattern. Loved enough by the regional culture, the local pattern becomes a part of the regional tradition. That which is traditional is therefore that which is most worthy of love…”
Contemporary additions (such as adding a new room) to timelessly lovable historic buildings has resulted in the desecration of historic buildings throughout the nation, as it is widely believed that a new addition to a historic building must be “of its time” so that the viewer of the building can distinguish between older and newer parts of the building. The widespread degradation of historic buildings occurs because the modernist — “of its time” — additions tend to be utterly bizarre, incompatible cubes or blocks to an otherwise ornamental building. This “of its time” guideline for new additions to historic buildings must be abolished to avoid harm to additional historic structures in the future.
Increasing the Number of Bicyclists. The most effective ways to increase the number of bicyclists are to (1) create relatively high residential densities, and a compact clustering of shops and jobs; (2) mix residences with shops and jobs both vertically (multiple-story buildings) and horizontally (short distances to nearby destinations); (3) create a small speed differential between cars and bicycles by using traffic calming measures to slow cars (modestly-sized street dimensions, on-street parking, etc.); and (4) remove the market-distorting subsidies for car travel.
The Single-Minded Effort to Require Bicyclists to Wear Bicycle Helmets is a Bad Idea. I have decided that too many Americans — particularly most bicycling advocates, ironically — excessively and counterproductively insist that all bicyclists always wear a bicycle helmet. This obsessive, aggressive campaign discourages bicycling, in part because it sends the message that bicycling is extremely dangerous, in part because the helmet is unattractive to wear, and in part because the helmet is inconvenient. Helmets are much less protective of a human brain than most people believe it is. While I always wear a helmet when I am mountain biking on trails and engaged in long-distance, high-speed bicycling, I never wear a helmet in low-speed in-town bicycling, where the risk of head injury is almost non-existent. In part, I do this to send a political message that bicycling is normal, hip and safe. To further “normalize” bicycling, I make it a habit to wear “normal” clothes (rather than bike racing lycra).
The Profound Shift in the Reputation of Motorists, Bicyclists and Pedestrians. In the book, Fighting Traffic: The Dawn of the Motor Age in the American City, by Peter Norton, I was taught that about 100 years ago when cars first emerged as form of travel, Americans had radically different views than today, when it comes to the reputation of motorists. Then, motorists were often considered murderous and were nearly always at fault when there was a collision with a pedestrian or bicyclist. Pedestrians and bicyclists, by contrast, were almost always innocent victims. Some states nearly adopted laws forcing cars to be equipped with governors that would prevent cars from exceeding a speed of 25 or 30 mph. Today, the reverse is true. Bicyclists and pedestrians are nearly always at fault for collisions with cars, and motorists are almost always innocent.
Less Open Space is Needed. Too often, community activists and elected officials will loudly call for more open space in the city to improve community quality of life. But because of community and road “gigantism,” the vital task for cities in America is to create less open space, not more. Nearly all cities have allocated excessive amounts of open space to cars, which means that to create lovable, human-scaled places, a top priority for town center improvement is the need to take away car-based open spaces allocated to car parking, wide roads and excessive building setbacks.
Emphasize Life Safety, Not Just Fire Safety. As shown by a study done by Peter Swift, widening roads (or keeping existing roads excessively wide) is often justified to promote fire safety, because it is claimed that wider roads allow faster fire truck response times. But the Swift study conclusively showed that such wider roads result in less overall public safety, because the increases in car crash injuries and deaths due to wider roads far exceeds the reduction in injuries and deaths due to faster fire truck response times. An essential means to achieve public safety, then, is to not narrowly focus on a subcategory of safety (in this case, fire safety), but to instead aim to improve the overall umbrella of life safety.
Manhattan is the Greenest City. In the book Green Metropolis, author David Owen showed me that there are a vast number of intellectually respectable reasons why those living in high-density cities are, by far, the people who are living the greenest, most environmentally sensitive, lowest-impact lifestyle. The answer for creating a more environmentally conserving, sustainable, low-impact community, in other words, is not to focus on such high-tech “green gizmos” as solar collectors on rooftops or high-mileage “green” cars, but to design a community which substantially reduces car use (higher residential densities, homes mixed with shops and jobs, roads that are small in size and tolled, as well as scarce and metered car parking).
Our Problem is Not “Too Many People.” Despite the conventional wisdom, nearly all American communities are not suffering from too many people. They are suffering from too many people in cars.
The Tragedy of the Commons. In the essay, The Tragedy of the Commons, by Garrett Hardin, I was shown that “freedom in the commons brings ruin to all,” as this classic essay points out. Hardin shows how in a commons, such as a cattle pasture that is jointly owned by a number of cattlemen, it is rational for each cattleman to add an additional cow to the pasture, because the benefit to the cattleman of adding another cow all goes to this individual cattleman, whereas the cost (depletion of the pasture) is shared by all cattlemen. Therefore, each cattleman concludes that it is rational to add cattle, even though doing so will eventually destroy the pasture. This principle applies to all “commons” such as air and water. Hardin convincingly argues that the only way to escape this tragedy is “mutual coercion, mutually agreed upon.”
Democracies Don’t Plan Ahead. They React. Democracies are notorious for not doing anything to solve a problem until a crisis is reached. Democracies react to problems. It would take a benign dictatorship to be beneficially proactive. This is one reason why it is painful to be a planner in America. It is painful to know in advance that we are doomed, and also know that there is nothing that can be done to avert the doom short of extremely strong, aggressive, courageous leadership.
Nothing Can Defeat the “Moral High Ground” at Public Meetings. No amount of facts or logic can stand up in a public meeting against “moral high ground” arguments that are too often successfully used as a smoke screen to promote a socially-detrimental agenda. Examples of moral high ground arguments include “Bambi” environmentalism (if we don’t follow a suggestion, the environment will be destroyed), a claim that “babies will die in burning buildings” if we shrink the size of a road, that there will be “fewer jobs for poor people” if the development is not allowed, or that there will be “murder and mayhem” if we don’t follow a recommendation. I have discovered that emotions and perceptions nearly always trump information and logic at both public meetings, as well as in personal life.
Local Law Enforcement and Fire Services, Through Irrational Hysteria, Are Over-Funded and Starving Other Essential Public Services. For decades, law enforcement agencies and fire departments at the local government level have been out-of-control, sub-optimized sacred cows. In nearly all local governments throughout the nation, the excessive level of tax revenues allocated to law enforcement and fire services is a dirty little secret that no one dares mention due to hysterical, irrational citizen fear of crime or “babies dying in burning buildings.” (I researched the amount of money allocated to the Gainesville, Florida police over the course of several years, and discovered that Gainesville, in particular, funds these services far in excess of even the high levels of dollars provided by comparable cities throughout the nation.) Law enforcement and fire departments are nearly identical, at the local level, to the Pentagon at the national level. The Pentagon, local law enforcement agencies, and fire departments always ask for huge annual budget increases, and are nearly always granted such increases. After all, who is going to be soft on Terrorism? Drugs? Burglaries? Babies in burning buildings? Too often, opposing outrageous police or fire budget increases is unfairly considered akin to being insensitive to crime control and safety. The increase in funding each year greatly exceeds things like population growth and inflation (in Gainesville, like in nearly all communities in America, the growth in the police department budget greatly exceeded inflation in a 10-year period starting in 1980, and over that time increased by over 400 percent, despite a population increase of only 20 percent). Appallingly, a number of “progressives” in Gainesville supported massive police and fire department budget increases, forgetting that money going to police and fire is money diverted away from public programs that can effectively reduce crime (or improve our quality of life). In fact, I’d argue that there is an inverse correlation between the money we throw at the police and fire departments, and our crime and quality of life problems. It will be a great day when the police and fire departments have to hold a bake sale for their revenue needs, while quality of life programs get all the money they need from local governments.
Persistence More Effective Than Brilliance. Persistence is the main way to achieve great things in both your personal life and in improving your community. Persistence has achieved more than great sums of money, genetic endowment, or brilliance. With time, anything is possible.
The Importance of Making Enemies. To accomplish meaningfully beneficial things, one must make enemies. Having enemies is a sign of leadership. The great achievements in community and transportation planning have occurred over the objections that “babies will die in burning buildings if we do that!” or “you will hurt poor people with that policy!” or “your plan will cost us jobs!” As Winston Churchill once said, “[y]ou have enemies? Good. That means you’ve stood up for something, sometime in your life.”
The Importance of Formally Aligning Street Trees. In the book Trees in Urban Design, author Henry Arnold showed me why it is important to formally align trees along a street or driveway (and to use the same size or species of tree), rather than picturesquely clustering trees or using multiple tree species along a route. Formally aligning trees along a street or drive induces civic pride, as the aligned trees form a highly picturesque scene. This lesson has been lost on most American city arborists, and it contributes to the unlovable nature of American communities. Picturesquely clustered tree placement has its place, but that place is in larger public parks and suburban locations. Arnold also convincingly shows how large trees are often compatible with overhead power lines, despite claims by utility companies.
Form-Based Land Development Regulations are Superior to Use-Based Regulations. The conventional “use-based” regulations that cities use to separate homes from offices, shops, and jobs are increasingly counterproductive. They promote car travel, reduce neighborhood vitality, have no community vision, and are negative rather than positive (emphasis is placed on what you cannot do). Form-based regulations, by contrast, emphasize the design of the buildings, where they are located on a property, the height of buildings, where the sidewalks and trees are placed, and the design of streets. Separating homes from offices, shops and jobs is much less important. What is inside a building is almost irrelevant. Form-based regulations are based on implementing a community vision for what is considered desirable. In that sense, form-based regulations are positive rather than negative (emphasis is placed on what you are encouraged to do). Form-based regulations are more long-lasting, as they are focused on the much more permanent design and location of the building, rather than the relatively brief half-life of the use within a building — be it a residence, a shop, or an office.
The Importance of the Third Place. In the book, The Great Good Place, by Ray Oldenburg, I learned that historically, American communities had important, neighborhood-based gathering places Oldenburg calls “Third Places.” The first place is home. The second is the place of work. The third place is the place that many of us in the neighborhood would go to for relaxation, to unwind, meet new friends, and nurture existing friendships. They were places where “everyone knew your name.” Where you could always expect to find good friends and good conversation. Tragically, the Third Place is becoming extinct in American neighborhoods, largely due to anachronistic, century-old, unsustainable zoning rules that prohibit such places in a neighborhood. Oldenberg speculates that the loss of Third Places help at least partly explain the increased rate of divorce, because without the Third Place, one has no place to unload frustrations and hostility from work except at home with the spouse. Oldenberg also believes that the decline of the Third Place helps explain the rise of drunk driving, as most all of us must now drive home after having drinks at the bar, rather than being able to walk home from a neighborhood-based pub. Oldenburg points out that segregation, isolation, compartmentalization and sterilization seem to be the guiding, unfortunate principles of contemporary suburban growth and “urban renewal.” In the final analysis, desirable experiences occur in places conducive to them, or they do not occur at all. When certain kinds of places disappear, certain experiences also disappear — tragically, the loss of the Third Place means the loss of the essential need for human sociability.
America is a Nation of Loners. In the book Bowling Alone, author Robert Putnam points out that the U.S. has become a nation of loners. That we are so isolated from each other that few of us join organizations any more, few of us have more than a small number of friends, and that many of us live a shorter life due to our lack of social capital. To be more happy, healthy, and financially sound, we must engage in a number of tactics to reverse this, including the return to the timeless tradition of building more walkable communities.
Slower is better. Slower car travel, through traffic calming and smaller street dimensions. Slower cities, through less car dependence. Slower food rather than drive-through food at fast food restaurants. In each case, slower is more desirable, in countless ways, for creating a better community.
The Most Important Books in Town and Transportation Planning. The three most important books I ever read in the field of town planning were Stuck in Traffic by Anthony Downs, Cities and Auto Dependency, by Peter Newman & Jeff Kenworthy, and The High Cost of Free Parking by Donald Shoup. These books were important in teaching me that widening free roads and expanding free parking worsens our transportation problems and the overall community quality of life. And that traffic congestion may not be such a bad thing after all. American must stop widening roads. Only priced parking and roads can effectively allow us to use roads and parking efficiently. I was flattered to discover that Shoup quoted me in his book.
Don’t Use Biased Transportation Terms. I have seen that in certain professions, biased language perpetuates an undesirable status quo. For example, in transportation, engineers often refer to road modifications such as road widenings as road improvements. While widening a road may briefly ease congestion for motorists, and thereby be a fleeting improvement for motorists, calling a widening an improvement is biased because a widening is harmful to bicyclists, pedestrians, and transit users.
Retaining Authenticity is Important. Because cities have catered excessively to making cars happy, nearly all cities look very much alike. They have an “anywhere USA” appearance. Given this, retaining and protecting authenticity is essential. Authentic places — that is, unique places that were loved for several generations — are worth their weight in gold. An example: when a tourist visits a community or a nation, that tourist wants, above nearly all else, to experience what is authentic about the place. One vital way to do that is for a town center to avoid the common and deadly mistake of trying to compete with its suburbs on suburban terms. Instead of providing abundant parking, low densities, and free-flowing traffic, town centers should leverage their strengths by emphasizing and promoting compact, walkable, lovable, charming, romantic, human-scaled, slow-speed design. Buildings are pulled up to the street, and streets remain narrow in width. Such places emphasize a “Park Once” rather than “Park Many Times” town center environment.
I urge you to email me (firstname.lastname@example.org) or leave a comment if you have a suggested addition or subtraction from this list. Or if you have any other thoughts about this list.
Each list in this blog contains my own personal opinions based on my personal experiences. I acknowledge that there may be a need to add or subtract from these lists (or to create a new subject list), and I welcome such suggestions. The lists are not ordered from higher to lower quality. Each list is a work in progress.
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