Wednesday, April 23

"When it comes to parking, staunch conservatives become communists"

While mixing up some stir fry in my wok this evening, I heard Donald Shoup say this quote on NPR. The story was about a new hi-tech system for locating and pricing parking in San Fransisco. Prof. Shoup commented on how Americans have somehow come to see parking as a basic human right, and how they will give an emotionally-charged defense when it looks like it may be restricted at all. What's weird is that this belief seems to become more prevalent the more conservative a person is.

Christian Wolmar, a U.K. blogger, brought up this puzzling inconsistency of libertarians who can't get enough government highway spending. What possible explanation could there be for this? Are cars themselves icons of freedom and individual choice? Is it a carry over from fighting the unions who worked on transit? Is it simply special interest funds from the oil and automobile lobbies? Does it stem from a contrarian attitude towards environmentalists and city-dwellers who are considered to be the on opposing side?

I'm honestly interested in hearing from a free-market advocate on why this is so often the case.


J.W. said...

I heard that interview as well. I talked with a good friend of mine in Atlanta, who got his M.A. in Urban Planning from GA Tech, and he's puzzled at this seeming contradiction as well. The standard line I have heard from liberatarian friends seems to be that the government is a coercive entity by nature, and therefore it should only be permitted to perform those actions that can be accomplished through violence, e.g. the prosecution of war, the punishment of crime, and so on. The organization of cities seems to fall well beyond the ken of governmental entities on this view.

J.W. said...

Also, have you seen this article by Michael Pollan yet? It's really wonderful.

Daniel Nairn said...

My hunch is that this contradiction falls on cultural/geographical lines rather than ideological/political lines. So libertarians do not support an auto-centric transportation system so much out of principle, but they support the system because they happen to be the ones who have the most to gain from it, because they are mostly concentrated in suburban or rural areas.

It might be a little like guns. Guns take on an entirely different meaning depending on whether you live in the country or city. In Montana, you think hunting. In L.A. you think gangs. It seem to me that the reason Republicans support gun rights is mostly because Republicans happen to be rural as well. It's not necessarily consistent philosophically.

Daniel Nairn said...

What an amazing article by Michael Pollan.

Maybe one thing I could focus on, career-wise, could be to help make it legal for people to have gardens as he described. Many HOAs and some zoning laws have pretty strict prohibitions on what and how much can be grown in a yard. Also, I wonder if community gardens could be an option for more people living too densely to enjoy their own. Or who are renting and can't justify all of the preparations without knowing whether it will come to fruition. Really thought provoking, and inspiring.

I should get back into the habit of a sabbath too.

J.W. said...

I think community gardens are clearly part of the answer for densely clustered urbanites. The problem is the rarity of such gardens. When suburbanization was the dominant trend, creative urbanists turned abandoned city lots into vegetable gardens. Now that city real estate has skyrocketed, this will no longer be an option. Central in the creation of more community gardens will be the role of churches and NGOs. And the church's prophetic voice will have to reemerge to challenge the dynamic of exclusion that characterizes the regentrification of our cities. We might learn from Richard Baxter, the 17th century Anglican/Puritan divine:

"It is too common a sort of oppression for the rich in all places to domineer too insolently over the poor, and force them to follow their wills and to serve their interest, be it right or wrong....Especially unmerciful landlords are the common and sore oppressors of the countrymen. if a few men can but get money enough to purchase all the land in a county, they think that they may do with their own as they list, and set such hard bargains of it to their tenants, that they are all but as their servants....An oppressor is an Anti-Christ and an Anti-God...not only the agent of the Devil, but his image."