By Dom Nozzi
For decades, we have engaged in the same old story. The same old song and dance. The same old profoundly counterproductive national efforts that are not only bankrupting us and destroying lives, but significantly worsening problems we say we are trying to correct.
Sure, most of us are aware of the catastrophic national blunders we are tragically– intractably – committing. Foolishness that is ruining us. The massive corn subsidies, property taxation that discourages town center development, capital punishment, free parking for cars, local government laws against “smart” and walkable development, tax exemption for churches, laws that promote centralized rather than decentralized power generation, subsidized gasoline, and on and on. The list is nearly endless. We can all name a host of ways in which our governments are worsening our prospects.
But there is a mighty trio of actions we have long taken that are most likely to bring the American Empire to its knees. Even Obama, a president who came to power proclaiming hope and change, has deemed it fit to substantially ramp up these three ruinous juggernauts.
Road Widening. With the national economy tanking and gasoline prices more likely to skyrocket than ever before, Obama chose to include, in his “stimulus” package, an enormous allocation of public dollars to widen FREE TO USE highways throughout the nation. What can be worse for the long-term prospects of the US than to do something (widening roads) that will inevitably increase car and oil dependency significantly, fuel substantial new suburban sprawl, induce more Americans to drive more miles, destroy in-town quality of life, and ramp up carbon emissions? See, for example, Newman & Kenworthy’s 1989 classic Cities and Automobile Dependence. Also see Downs Stuck in Traffic (1992).
The Drug War. American has apparently learned nothing from the failed alcohol prohibition years. We continue to treat drugs as a moral problem rather than as a medical and social problem. For several decades, we have poured billions into fighting a “war” against drugs. Each year, politicians garner enormous numbers of votes by vowing to be “tougher on drugs.” The result of this unaffordable “war” is an epidemic of drug prohibition-induced crime in most cities, prisons bursting at the seams due to world-leading incarceration rates of “drug offenders” (and a resulting bankrupting of local, state and national government due to enforcement & incarceration efforts), deadly and widespread violence and gang warfare in drug-producing nations such as Mexico, the promotion of a black market and organized crime in the US, an increase in the availability of (and reduction in the price of) illegal drugs, a maintenance of drugs that are dangerous because they are unregulated, and a significant loss of civil liberties. In short, a replay of the alcohol prohibition years. See, for example, James P. Gray’s Why Our Drug Laws Have Failed (2001).
The War Against Terror. Is there anything more counterproductive than spending hundreds of billions of public dollars to prosecute a war in Afghanistan? A war that has undoubtedly spawned countless new terrorists who are now committed to violence against the US for as long as they live. A war that has wiped out villages and killed an appalling number of civilians and American troops. What is our objective in that land? Why are we there? What constitutes “winning”? Why do we expect to “win” in a country that is known throughout history to have defeated numerous and more powerful nations? A place known as the graveyard of empires. See, for example, Richard N. Haas, “Rethinking Afghanistan,” Newsweek Magazine, July 18, 2010.
As Pogo once pointed out, we have met the enemy, and he is us. Who needs enemies when we have ourselves? Will we ever stop being trapped in the downward spiral of the same old song and dance?
Visit my urban design website read more about what I have to say on those topics. You can also schedule me to give a speech in your community about transportation and congestion, land use development and sprawl, and improving quality of life.
Or email me at: dom[AT]walkablestreets.com
My book, The Car is the Enemy of the City (WalkableStreets, 2010), can be purchased here: http://www.lulu.com/product/paperback/the-car-is-the-enemy-of-the-city/10905607
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