What the transportation infrastructure industry needs is a compelling vision. That’s the main point I took away from Jim Pinkerton’s lecture, “Building Political Support for Transportation Investment,” at ARTBA’s 2013 national convention last week in Milwaukee.
Pinkerton, a Fox news analyst and author, referenced the General Motors display at the 1939 World’s Fair in New York. He called it a “visionary, cool idea of the future.” And people wanted to live there.
“Give people a vision that makes them say, I want that, and they will find a way to get it,” he said.
From its beginnings as a vision of speeding commerce and contributing to the national defense, America’s transportation infrastructure industry has devolved, Pinkerton said, into “nerdy studies” of congestion and other dry topics, “earnest and worthy but not zippy.”
“If you build something people want to go to, they will find a way to get there,” he said.
Maybe the vision of the ideal community of the 1950s was stand-alone single-family houses in a quiet suburb that creates a refuge from the grunginess of the city. Wide, green lawns surround each house like a moat. Each one of those houses must have a garage, of course, with a car for dad to go to work in the morning and then come home to his castle.
Things have changed. Maybe the vision of today’s ideal community is a connected world, where dad and mom both have to work just to stay afloat. Wages have been stagnant for at least a generation. The top 1% of the population gets richer, while the bottom 99% watch their standard of living slip. Even with two wage-earners in the family, they can’t afford a McMansion.
Today’s parents want to minimize the time they spend commuting. The car is no longer a symbol of freedom; it is only one of several possibilities for getting around. Young people delay getting a driver’s license, delay moving out of their parents’ house and don’t necessarily buy a car.
Sounds to me like the ideal community of today is a neighborhood integrating home, work, shopping and leisure activities, with access to several modes of transportation. The “complete streets” accommodate drivers, cyclists and pedestrians.
I think that vision of a “livable” city sounds very appealing.