Sunday, December 21, 2014

Our harsh culture

Today's NY Times includes "Dude, Close Your Legs: MTA Fights a Spreading Scourge." Perhaps we should face up to the fact that there are some rough edges in American culture, including how many Americans behave in public spaces and places, including public transit.

(Also in some private places.  I witnessed an episode this morning where police were called because an irate customer lost her composure -- to put it mildly.)

And no one has any good ideas on what can or should be done. In our recent history, there has been more exit than voice as many Americans have de-camped to suburban areas in the hope of encountering less harshness. There is also the choice of private spaces (including shopping malls and Disney-type parks) over conventional public spaces.  Not to be overlooked is the fact that many Americans have a pretty good green space in their back yard.

Many Americans flock to European cities to enjoy the public spaces and parks as well as street life -- and public transit. Quite a few return and ask how we can mimic all of these things at home.  Then it's usually off the to races, including the inevitable tut-tutting about the "need" for more investments in public infrastructure. As though it is simply about more money.  The money part, of course, has the support of all the usual suspects.  Aaron Renn nails that one in a recent post.  I also cited some Los Angeles  infrastructure spending gone awry, in a recent post.

We do not know what to do about homeless street people.  We do not know what to do about an increasingly harsh culture.  In fact the latter greatly amuses audiences of many current movies. The evolution of American public behavior is easily seen by viewing the popular films of today vs those of fifty+ years ago.

What is to be done? This is complex but step #1 has to be an end to denial. We have a problem and it's not just about "starving" infrastructure.

I wish the NY MTA luck with their campaign. Once the middle class abandons public transit, it's all over for that mode. In many other large U.S. cities, that ship sailed some years ago.