Leaders that get it done, citizenry that drags them down...

Leaders that get it done, citizenry that drags them down…

If you haven’t heard of Janette Sadik-Khan, she was the commissioner of the NYC Department of Transportation during the Bloomberg administration (2007-2013). She was largely responsible for transforming NYC’s streets, and to some extent, its culture, into what it is today.

Say what you will about NYC, but it is resilient. Whether it be rampant crime, economic collapse, terrorist attacks or natural disasters, the people of New York have a certain outlook or inner strength (or something) that refuses to give up, and that energy is felt when you walk around its streets. It’s not Texas you shouldn’t be messing with. The combination of a creative and driven DOT commissioner and a population that is reasonably progressive makes for a great environment for introducing change. Other cities in the US are watching and learning. There is a palpable difference between the city I now live in and New York (obviously), but what is most annoying here is the stagnant and somewhat complacent general population, fearful of and slow to accept change. Rather than “let’s give it a go”, the default reaction to proposed change is “that will never work”. Don’t bother them with facts. “That may work very well for New York, but this isn’t New York!”. That’s right, it’s not. It’s not crowded (density of 659/km² vs. 10,725/km²), nor incredibly busy, and it was settled about 200 years later, with “wide multi-lane roads from its beginning” (source). Yeah, good luck trying to accommodate a bit of cycling and pedestrian infrastructure into that!

It seems that Adelaide has a history of resisting innovation.

Adelaide is a planned city, designed by the first surveyor-general of South Australia, Colonel William Light. His plan, now known as Light’s Vision, arranged Adelaide in a grid, with five squares in the Adelaide city centre and a ring of parks, known as the Adelaide Parklands, surrounding it. Light’s design was initially unpopular with the early settlers, as well as South Australia’s first governor, John Hindmarsh. Light persisted with his design against this initial opposition.

What it, and other cities, needs, are people like Col. Light, like Janette Sadik-Khan, and like Adelaide’s Stephen Yarwood (who has put in a good effort to build better city infrastructure but hasn’t had much luck in the face of heavy opposition) to get done what is good for the city in spite of short-sighted loudmouths that reject change for the sake of it.

Don’t forget the other key element of NYC: its people – who want improvement rather than self-serving complacency. You are a member of your city’s populus, and you have a voice. Embrace progress. Show support for those who stand up for the better interests of the place where you live.

Things get done in a city that has at least one of two things: a motivated populace, or a motivated local government with enough power to just get it done. Adelaide has really only a tiny bit of the later, and at best only a portion of the former, which is probably why things are happening rather timidly and at what seems like a glacial pace. If you don’t care to support civic improvement, you could at least turn your boiling opposition down to a simmer and just let the rest of us get on with making some progress.

I don’t know… maybe it’s just the slight disaster that is the new Royal Adelaide Hospital being built, what with the figure of I’ve heard to be upwards of a $2bn total building cost, delays costing in the area of $1,000,000 per day (times many months), and once finished, a daily running cost of $1m. Could be they’re holding fire on “discretionary spending”… but I doubt it.


Header Image: hobvias sudoneighm/Flickr