I’ve been working on a long-form piece for a couple months that should be out in January, and I wanted to share this snippet of an interview that I’m not using.
This is from Ian Lockwood, an engineer and principal at the design firm AECOM, and he’s talking about what happened in Copenhagen in the 70’s, as an example of why land use policy matters. Even if you don’t care much about land use and transportation issues, it’s an inspiring example of why politics matters, and how commitment to the right policies can turn things around relatively quickly. I think it’s also a lesson about how we could all stand to be a little more radical.
In Denmark they were building by-passes and highways just like we were, but it got too expensive, and in the 70’s they had to make a policy decision between things like health care and education and highways. They picked health care and public education; we picked highways. We kept doing conventional stuff, but they systematically altered the built environment to make walking and cycling and transit popular.
You can make huge changes to quality of life and health and so forth through policy. People here don’t like that idea because they think of it as social engineering, and anything with the word social in it is anti-American. However, the same thing happened here. We were socially engineered to give up our transit and our walkable cities. Our cities were as walkable as any European city in 1920. We had some of the most fantastic trolley and train systems in the world.
But public policy was changed purposefully to dismantle that system and to create a car-based system not just because it was profitable for the people involved, but because there was this idea that it was a better way of life. And we all bought into it and it’s still the prevailing idea.