the rising costs of belonging to the jet set, I took my share of
flights for a few business trips and boondoggles this summer. Though
most of my plane tickets were paid for, my transportation to and from
my respective airports were not. Like any good urbanist, I approached
each airport as a challenge to see how cheaply and quickly I could get
from the airport to my in-town destination.
These were challenges that I -- or, rather, the cities -- failed more often than they passed.
I once was consigned to a table full of business school students at a land-use conference at UCLA. Trying to be a good sport, I offered the only idea that I'd ever had about business: car insurance charged according to miles driven. I posited that since risk and mileage were more or less correlated, it only made sense that people who drove more and incurred more risk should pay more.
My tablemates stared back at me as if I had just issued a rousing recitation of Das Kapital.
Now that the weather in Los
Angeles has gone from pleasant to perfect with the subtle advent of
spring, I've been spending more time risking my life atop my bicycle as
I wend my way to meetings and errands. As a faithful urbanist I have
little trouble convincing myself of cycling's merits, which, as former
California State Health Officer Dr. Richard Jackson likes to say, can
"improve your life span, lower your blood pressure, make you better
looking, improve your sex life, and save you money." Sounds good to
I've always hated songs about cities, particularly mawkish anthems like "New York, New York," "I Left My Heart in San Francisco," and the ghastly "I Love L.A." Lyricists seem to dream them up when there's nothing else to sing about. Indeed, cities are the setting for life, not the object of it. Singing about them is like performing a play about a theater.
MINNEAPOLIS--If not for the Walker Art Center I would have scant reason to spend extra time in Minneapolis. Minneapolis is not lacking for charm or culture, but it certainly falls in that middle range of American cities, somewhere between New York and nondescript, which is to say that it is not a destination in and of itself, yet it offers reasons to extend a stay for those who find themselves so far north for other reasons.
Yes, yes. We all want to save the children. They are our most precious resource and hold the key to our future. Let them lead the way, and please, lord, don't let them get run over by a train.
Fortunately, most American kids face no such danger because they are held safe in far-flung suburbs where conformity and the cocoon of the strip mall tend to their well-being. They are growing up strong and worldly behind gates and in perfect communities far from the strife of the city, where art, culture, diversity, adventure, and freedom might stimulate them just a little too much.
To paraphrase the New York Times' summation of the Anaheim Angels' rhetorical exodus to Los Angeles a few years ago: some ideas are so stupid that you just have to stand back and watch. To that I would add, some things are so stupid that they deserve derision no matter how long ago they occured. Though it crawled out from the Senate floor in the summer of 2005, SAFETEA-LU -- the $240 billion federal transportation bill -- has, for the past two years, gotten off way too easy.
This week Salon.com published a remarkable interview with a contender for the White House. The candidate didn't offer the solution to stabilizing Iraq, strengthening the economy, or bringing down the price of a six-pack (at least not directly), but for the first time in the history of American campaigning that I'm aware of, he referred to the issue of "land use."