Why I do it

February 18th, 2013

I was talking to an environmentalist recently, trying to understand why she wanted to go into environmental law. Why at the lowest level she wanted to do it…what her vision for the world was. I was dissatisfied with her answer, which was posed mostly in negative terms: less this, less that, none of the other. It was all very reactionary.

Then I realized this morning that even though it’s been clear in my head for a year or two now why I care about transit, I’d never actually put it to paper(or in this case into a MySQL database). Here it is, the drive of my work here:

I want to bring people into humane, fruitful relations with one another.

I want to address what I think are some seriously messed up power dynamics. Cars present a major unbalance of power. Cars are a constant reminder that the majority of normal people in this country every day strap themselves into a massively powerful mechanical extension of their bodies and roam the world like careless god-monsters. Unable to communicate, unable to be reasoned with or even looked in the eye, cars fill our public spaces with a stampede of frightened and frightening beasts. It’s only forcefully that I remind myself of the humanity of the people “driving” these things and I think it’s often only forcefully that they can be reminded of it themselves.

Public transit for the environment? No! To save money? I’d ride a bike.

I use public transit because when I’m inside of it people are just people and don’t have the ability to kill me with a twitch of their right ankle. The people aren’t just people. They’re persons. Sometimes we transcend mere respectful civility and get to something divine: communion. My acute sense of the wonder of shared humanity is why I’m an urban planner. Instead of people sheltering alone in their cars and their homes, working behind fences and walls, I want to create places(transit vehicles, caf├ęs, street corners) where diverse people can sit next to each other, not because it appeals to some sense of justice, but because sitting together is better than sitting alone.

I want to see what humanity can do with itself if we’re all able to treat each other with true respect. I think it will be glorious.

2 responses to “Why I do it”

  1. Jeff Bridgmn says:


  2. This is great. Your talk of communion and the divine nature of human to human interaction has you sounding like a Catholic (and I don’t mean that negatively). This is what all of our great contemporary thinkers are telling us is wrong with suburbia: community cannot flourish in suburban isolation. The ideal of sprawl is to get your own tract of land and to be autonomous, held accountable to no one. That is simply not how humans work though, as you have pointed out. I love this site and the work that you are doing. As a Cincinnati native, I am thrilled that transit is finally being put at the forefront, although I confess your cautions about the streetcar are valid. Wish it didn’t cost so darn much…