Just what is a cultural driver?

The World Resource Institute is hawking a blog that is bemoaning the fact that urban sprawl exists and therefore an individual’s carbon footprint is larger since they have things like houses, gardens, and cars, plus have to drive further to get to work. The WRI posits that we should live cheek by jowl in cities to reduce that carbon footprint. From their blog:

What Are the Barriers to Compact Growth?

Millions of urban dwellers live in private houses with their own gardens and private cars. Millions more aspire to this type of lifestyle. This cultural norm is reinforced by economic drivers, such as the lower cost of land around the urban periphery and tax policies that favor single-family dwellings.

But once housing and infrastructure have been built, it is extremely difficult to change a city’s design. The infrastructure and urban planning decisions made today can lock cities in to carbon-intensive growth patterns.

Perhaps the biggest challenge to breaking these locks is mobilizing the huge investments required to build or change transport networks. Once a city has highways, it is cheaper to extend them than to replace them with trains, for example.

Cities in North America and Australia depend most heavily on private cars. People living in these cities consequently have very high carbon footprints.

So let’s see. Folks are immigrating to the US both legally and illegally to get out of those compact cities and into places where they can have a piece of dirt, a garden and a car. The Horror.

I’m sure there are plenty of folks living on the upper East Side in Manhattan or Downtown San Francisco or in Central DC who are quite happy with a small apartment, no car, and a quick walk to work. So be it.

There are also those lugs who aspire to houses, gardens, and cars. It’s the cultural norm mentioned above. But I’m not sure that lower cost of land and tax policies are the drivers. Is it possible that it’s the human psyche that looks for a bit of freedom, personal ownership, the ability to actually see and touch the fruits of our labors?

To me this is not a bad thing, it is a ‘driver’ that lets people have a piece of the prosperity that they are creating. Somehow a 700 square foot apartment and a good pair of shoes just doesn’t cut i, at least for me.

The WRI would like to see us all stacked one on top of another in a compact, carless city so the our surroundings could be better controlled to fit into its vision of just how the world should work.

Somehow I still like the idea of having a choice. One size doesn’t not fit all.


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