For some reason a lot of people I know and meet, including plenty of smart ones, feel the need to tell me something resembling the following:
Some of us need to drive! How else can I get to my job on one side of town and transport my quintuplets to daycare on the other side of town! Plus, I need to drive all over the place during the workday.
A close cousin of that statement comes in the housing debate:
Not everyone wants to live in a tiny condo. Maybe I want to have a big yard for my kids to play in! Did you ever stop to consider that??
Consider this statement recently shared on the Austin Police Association FB page (APA leadership later said whoever posted it didn’t have authorization to do so):
I hear you dude. Nobody’s talking about confiscating your ride. Our goal is not to eliminate your option to drive, but simply to provide others with the option to walk, bike or take transit. It’s true that facilitating those other options may in some cases reduce the amount of space reserved for cars, but not to the point where it will significantly impact your ability to continue driving. Even the most ambitious multi-modal proposals only envision reallocating a minuscule portion of the overall right-of-way in this city from cars to bike lanes or transit lanes. Basically, we just want more of stuff like this bike lane in Crestview:
Local political operative/funder Fred Lewis is a master of similar straw man arguments. Here are a few he shared with a reporter from Strong Towns amidst the CodeNEXT debate last year:
“Bottom line is there is absolutely no trust,” said Fred Lewis of Community Not Commodity, an advocacy organization in opposition to CodeNEXT. “They have utter contempt for single family neighborhoods.”
“You can say everyone is going to ride bikes or walk but nobody believes it,” said Fred Lewis of Community Not Commodity.
CodeNEXT opponent Lewis, says he isn’t opposed to walkability, but he is skeptical that it’s what people actually want. “The idea that people are going to walk to the store is ludicrous. It’s 100 degrees here in the summer.”
Land use reform does not envision abolishing single-family homes. If you desire and can afford a big house and a big yard, there’s no city law that is going to infringe upon that right. Land use reform almost never entails mandating anything; it’s really about reducing regulations to allow more types of housing. Finally, it’s also about allowing (not mandating) a greater mix of residential and commercial uses, so that more families can live close to work, childcare, grocery stores and other amenities.
The key for supporters or transit and density is not to take the bait and get into a lifestyle debate. The emphasis has to remain on enabling options, rather than arguing about the merits of a suburban or car-dependent lifestyle. Describing single-family homeowners or drivers as a basket of deplorables will work about as well for urbanists as it did for Hillary Clinton.
The good news is that I think the vast majority or urbanists understand this. After all, many of them happily live in single-family homes and the great majority of them drive at least part of the time, either due to preference or because they lack alternatives.
While some people present these straw man arguments in bad faith, many others are genuinely confused about what we are proposing when we talk about enabling greater density and diversifying transportation options. Once they understand that we are simply advocating for greater options, not attacking their lifestyle, they will become much more open to our arguments.
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