When gas prices go up, many (like Paul Krugman "Stranded in Suburbia" in today's NY Times) argue that we should live more like Europeans. Well, yes and no.
He admits that significant transit use is not plauisble in the U.S. but that we should live in denser neighborhoods where auto use is of lower importance. Sustained higher prices will, of course, cause us to demand (and get) more auto efficient cars. And, on the chance that this is not enough, we will find ways to consolidate our travel. So far, so good. But then he adds:
"And there are, as always in America, the issues of race and class. Despite the gentrification that has taken place in some inner cities, and the plunge in national crime rates to levels not seen in decades, it will be hard to shake the longstanding American association of higher-density living with poverty and personal danger."
Let's admit it: Our public spaces do not touch those in Europe because so many of ours are populated by the "homeless". We avoid these places not because we are racist or illiberal but because these folks ruin the quality of the experience. I encounter more panhandlers a day in my neighborhood ("tony" Brentwood in West LA) than I have in over two weeks traveling around Europe.
Overlooking this inconvenient truth undermines the comparison.