Tuesday, May 3, 2016

The sociology of walkability

Twin City Sidewalks has an excellent interview with sociologist Lars Christiansen, discussing how cultural norms, enforcement and design all influence walkability. One piece about the class dimension of car ownership really struck me:
[I]t’s a status object. Still, it's almost a nefarious switch that’s happening. So you create an object whether it’s the single-family home or the automobile, and associate all kinds of status with them. And you really make it a scarcity that only certain people can have access to. White suburbia is one example, car ownership, TV ownership originally and so forth. 
But as soon as it becomes democratized, there's a shift, and then it's cars are bad, cars that were only accessible to certain to people. It’s a terrible thing that we’ve revered cars for so long and now we're starting to challenge cars, and it's understandable why communities who were excluded from the achievement of various status acquisition are like F.U., you’re changing the rules now. Now I’m supposed to hate my car? It's a weird thing that consumption does to us and how we treat each other.
From a pure economic and personal finance perspective, our car-oriented built environment almost certainly disadvantages poor and already-disadvantaged people. But troublesome details like culture, and respect for lifestyles that people have become accustomed to are tricky things for advocates to grapple with.

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