Move to the City for a Slow Life

Montreal

It’s often thought that cities are buys bustling places where nobody slows down. Sure, the streets are busier and there is more activity, but the city is a slow place for living. Arizona State University researchers looked into the lifestyles of urban dwellers and discovered that they are slower than people who live elsewhere. The slowness is all about when people hit particular moments of life and how they think about the future.

“Our findings are contrary to the notion that crowded places are chaotic and socially problematic,” said Oliver Sng, who led the research while a doctoral student at ASU and who now is a postdoctoral fellow at the University of Michigan. “People who live in dense places seem to plan for the future more, prefer long-term romantic relationships, get married later in life, have fewer children and invest a lot in each child. They generally adopt an approach to life that values quality over quantity.”

Sng, with ASU Foundation Professor Steven Neuberg and ASU psychology professors Douglas Kenrick and Michael Varnum, used data from nations around the world and the 50 U.S. states to show that population density naturally correlates with these slow life strategies. Then, in a series of experiments (e.g., in which people read about increasing crowdedness or heard sounds of a crowded environment), they found that perceptions of crowdedness cause people to delay gratification and prefer slower, more long-term mating and parenting behaviors.

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Improve Transportation by Ending Subsidies for Automobiles


Many drivers think that gas tax (or their car-related taxes in general) more than cover the costs of infrastructure of cars. The reality is quite the opposite. People who don’t drive subsidize those who do. In terms of infrastructure itself we have spent more money on roads than on other forms of transit.

This combination of policy and infrastructure has created societies that use cars too much and in dangerous ways. The costs of pollution from cars is shared by everyone and the land used for cars (highways, parking lots, etc.) means that land can’t be used for other purposes. That’s just two ways that society subsidizes car ownership. We all pay for drivers to drive. We should stop.

Driving is a choice, and provided that drivers pay all the costs associated with making that choice, there’s little reason to object to that. After all, very few people think that a zero car world is one that makes a lot of sense. Low-car makes much more sense that non-car as a policy talking point. How do we get people to make these choices. There’s an analogy here to alcohol. We tried prohibition in the twenties. It was moral absolutism, zero tolerance. Alcohol in any amount was evil. That didn’t work.

When we experienced the epidemic of drunk driving, we didn’t go back to prohibition. Instead, we raised penalties to make drivers more responsible, set tougher limits on blood alcohol content, and put more money into enforcement. People still drink—but there’s a different level of understanding of responsibility and consequences, and fewer people drive drunk.

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Detroit’s Farms May Save the City

fruit store

Detroit is a city that has been witnessing a lot of change thanks to poor urban planning and bad economics. The past decade has been very rough for the people of Detroit and they are turning to old, but innovative, ways to revive the city. We have seen artists move to Detroit and even some tech companies. At the other end of the spectrum is a return to the land in the form of farming.

The low density neighbourhood design of the suburbs contributed to Detroit’s fall and now it might be saving the city by returning to arable land.

We were sitting at a picnic table nestled between his house and farm. Greg was in his early 40s, compact and wiry, with flecks of gray in his close-cropped black hair, his arms and face leathery from the sun. As he spoke, his leg jittered like a sewing-machine needle, and I got the impression that sitting still was torture for him. Most of our conversations occurred in moving vehicles, at his booth in the farmers’ market, or as we hacked at weeds or laid irrigation hose through fields.

Suburbia, Greg told me, was the greatest misallocation of resources in the history of the world: big, thin-walled houses that take loads of gas and electricity to heat and cool, acres of farmland and animal habitat bulldozed for useless lawns that guzzle water and gobble poisons, barrels of food scraps hauled across the county and buried in a landfill, sprawling subdivisions requiring cars and gasoline for the simplest of errands—mailing a package or buying a gallon of milk. What’s more, he said, suburbs encouraged isolation, cultivated a fear of strangers, and created enclaves that segregated the white middle class from poor people and brown people.

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Montreal’s Streets Continue to be Focused on People

Montreal

Walking the streets of Montreal already provides a pleasant experience – and it’s about to get better. The city has dedicated an additional $1.7 million to what it already spends on making selected streets car free. The pedestrian areas promote local artists and encourage people to visit neighbourhoods throughout the municipality. People love the initiative and hopefully other cities can adopt such a neat city building exercise.

Under Montreal’s system, the first year of a car-free street is treated like a trial. The city observes how well the space is used, as well as the effect on motor vehicle traffic and local businesses. If the first year is a success, the city will commit to permanent changes or bring the car-free segment back on a seasonal basis every year.

The city reports that public opinion of the program is very favorable, and most of the pedestrian streets last beyond the pilot phase, either as permanent car-free spaces or seasonal pedestrian zones during the warmer months, according to the CBC.

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Thanks to Delaney!

Busting Urban Planning Myths

urban

There’s a lot of misconceptions about how to make cities a better place to live that need to be cleared up. A popular belief is that adding more lanes for cars will help curb traffic jams – when the opposite it true. Some backwards-looking individuals think that adding bike lanes is bad for business when multiple studies have proven otherwise. These myths have bothered a columnist over at Metro paper enough that they wrote an article focussed on busting these urban planning myths that hold back better cities.

A common political argument is that bike and transit riders should “pay their own way.” A study in Vancouver however suggested that for every dollar we individually spend on walking, society pays just 1 cent. For biking, it’s eight cents, and for bus-riding, $1.50. But for every personal dollar spent driving, society pays a whopping $9.20! Such math makes clear where the big subsidies are, without even starting to count the broader environmental, economic, spatial and quality-of-life consequences of our movement choices. The less people need to drive in our cities, the less we all pay, in more ways than one.

Want more examples? There’s math showing that replacing on-street parking with safe, separated bike-lanes is good for street-fronting businesses. That crime goes down as density goes up. That providing housing for the homeless actually saves public money. That you can move more people on a street when car lanes are replaced by well-designed space for walking, biking and transit.

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