The Daily Parker

Politics, Weather, Photography, and the Dog

Why Americans like European cities

Travel writer Rick Stevens points out that European cities made deliberate choices to become walkable. American cities can do that too:

You know, it's funny, when Americans are in Europe, they marvel at the energy and the people friendliness of the urban cores. But oftentimes, they don't put it together. 

But you walk around these towns—you walk around Rome, you walk around Copenhagen, you walk around Amsterdam and Warsaw—and think, “Where are all the cars? There's just happy people.” I was in Copenhagen once when they were really getting into this: people were walking around the streets wearing plywood cut out the size and shape of a car. And they would walk down the sidewalks in the streets, walking, taking up as much space as a car to make the point. And now when you look around, you realize there's no traffic in Copenhagen downtown. Stop, where are the cars? No cars. Where are the vehicles? 200 bicycles. You stop anywhere, you can see 200 bicycles, but you don't even notice them. And that's how people got there.

I think we have the infrastructure, but the priority for the infrastructure is not people, it's cargo. For Seattle or Portland in Europe, there would be a train every half hour. I wouldn't need a schedule, I would know that at 10 minutes after and at 40 minutes after, there's a bullet train going from my town to Portland, and it would have maybe five stops along the way. It would go 100 miles an hour, and it'd be affordable, it would build community, it'd be sustainable. But what happens when I take the train to Portland from Seattle? It stops in the middle of nowhere for 20 minutes because it's waiting for a freight train to go by. So, our priority is that kind of commerce. I've given up on taking the train to Portland; now I drive. It's just because I'm not cargo: If I was cargo, I'd love to be on a train. But I'm a human being. So, I have to wait.

When [an American city] vacates at night, it becomes dangerous. You get afraid when there’s no people out, and it causes people to have to travel more, and spend more time in traffic to get in and out of work. It doesn't lend itself to a vital community. So, what do you have? You've got a situation where, after dark, the urban core is just a scary, depressing place, and in a lot of cases in Europe, it'd be a thriving place. It's pretty simple, isn't it? People live there. There's public transit, and it's not ruled by cars.

Will the US and Canada ever figure this out? I hope so, and in my lifetime. I grow less optimistic every year.

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