People make the change, but which ones?
Every now and then I come up with something that seems to resonate with more than 6-8 people, and my last post on the irrationality of becoming infuriated about slowing down behind cyclists before safely passing them (and also, ironically, providing them with the space needed to get out of your way), yet are begrudgingly accepting of the recurring and often prolonged state of motionlessness caused by other cars.
Maybe my sharp intellect is so absolute that there is no room for any further input, or maybe I’m doing something wrong (nah, it’s definitely the really sharp intellect thingy), but the rate of commenting, or “fruitful discussion”, as I like to imagine it being, is often conspicuously absent. The last post convinced a few hardy souls to take to their keyboards and make with the commenting, and today is simply a strain of thought brought about by two of them.
Firstly, Mikael rightly pointed out, amongst other things, that “people are weird”, and never has a more factual statement been made.
Secondly, though, one Snappydon made the observation that if the many people who already get about by bicycle were to drive instead, it would have a negative effect on the city on pretty much all levels, and further, that “I don’t think the government needs convincing about this, but when it comes to public opinion, they’re losing the battle to the media outlets who rely on a bit of controversy and hate to float their shallow businesses.”
They are losing the battle on a regular basis, but I’m not sure that the war is being lost. I don’t think that the government of South Australia (or Nationally) is necessarily staving off defeat by their own means so much as the simple fact that cycling is so inherently good that riding a bike itself is turning the tide, even if it often seems to be happening at a somewhat glacial pace here.
I would just like to try to try to add some objectivity here at this point, and say that there are worse, less progressive places in the world than South Australia when it comes to building infrastructure for people rather than cars. Things aren’t the worst here, and they are in fact getting better in some ways. Also, that there do happen to be more than a few issues to connected to this that are likely far more complicated than many people appreciate. With that said, there is so much room for improvement here as well as so much potential for it, combined with fact that you’d have to be an idiot to believe that old-fashioned thinking (more roads for more cars!) so obviously leads to a dead-end, that it then seems a tad frustrating that so many places with so, so many more and larger hurdles to overcome are making such giant strides in redesigning their much older, much more congested cities for people (for example). And it’s clearly working. And what we’re still doing clearly isn’t.
Which leads me back to the comment. It’s the “I don’t think the government needs convincing about this” part.
Ok, so, I think, or would at least like to think, that the collective “government” would hesitate to actually commit to the view that continuing to provide for more and more cars is in any way sustainable, or good, or even anywhere close to responsible behaviour. If that’s true, I can’t shake the suspicion that taking that position (continuing to prioritize cars over people) is simply down to protecting their position as an elected official. Because lots of people, who vote, drive.
If that’s not true, and they actually can’t see that it’s not in any way sustainable, or good, or responsible even in the short-term, then I would suggest that we need new elected officials. Then I have to wonder to myself, “if more people favour more and better infrastructure for cars over more and better infrastructure for people, meaning that there are more votes for cars than people, then how are we ever going to get new elected officials?”
If we can’t get new elected officials, then we have to somehow convince our current elected officials that certain priorities need to be refocused on others.
Or, it’s equally valid to work from the other end. If elected officials are beholden to the voters, then how can we convince the majority of voters to tell their elected officials to be more forward thinking and build cities for people rather than cars?
It seems easier to me to rationally appeal to the minds of a few dozen people with (what I would hope to be) a reasonably high IQ, than a good few hundred thousand people with a somewhat lower collective capacity for following an argument. However, it seems more realistic/pragmatic to me that when it comes down to it, the majority, however great and/or unwashed they may be, are ultimately the one’s who hold the power. Because votes.
So, until more of our elected officials become somewhat more brave and professionally altruistic than they currently may be (ie: “I may not get re-elected, but I’m going to do some good in this town!”), perhaps it’s the masses that we should be going after, and that leads to another possibility: the aforementioned media in the comment from Snappydon.
We pretty much live in the Wizard of Oz. The media more often than not plays the spineless Wizard who has us under his spell, and we respond to their prompts with aspiring to own many shiny but pointless objects, and on a deeper level, with fear of not being happy, or healthy, or worthy, or loved, or noticed, or special (whatever that is), or beautiful, or valued. The “battle for our roads” is just one of the many scraps of food they throw under the table for us to fight over, and counts on us defaulting to a defensive position of thoughtlessly defending our nearest possession so that we feel something. “My car! My road! My right of way!”
This is just at the point of slipping into an insanely huge discussion of some extremely enormous and difficult topics, so I’ll wind it in and just say that aside from the various nefarious reasons that the guy-behind-the-guy, behind-the-guy, behind-the-guy who runs the various media outlets has for wanting us to play into their stories, the first step is that they want viewers and clicks: minds and money.
I’m just realizing that this presumes a rather bleak view of humanity, which I am apparently somewhat sympathetic to. Apologies. I’m going to have to steer this gloomy vessel back to shore somehow…
I guess at the end of all this, I’m really just putting a question out there to you all: we can do it, but where do we best spend our energy to bring positive change to our communities? The Netherlands had motivated and active citizens, New York had a few amazing and brave elected officials, London had a crazy Mayor, Paris has French people, and Portlandia has a bunch of artisanal hippies. That is to say, there are about as many ways to bring about change as there are places that have gone through that change and places that still will.
So I’ll end with this, if I can pretend that it’s this simple: where do you see the best source of change coming from for Australia (and maybe even Adelaide, for anyone who knows)?
Header image: source