Streets Before Trust

There’s an emerging mentality among left-wing urban planners in the US called “trust before streets.” It’s a terrible idea that should disappear, a culmination of about 50 or 60 years of learned helplessness in the American public sector. Too many people who I otherwise respect adhere to this idea, so I’m dedicating a post to meme-weeding it. The correct way forward is to think in terms of state capacity first, and in particular about using the state to enact tangible change, which includes providing better public transportation and remaking streets to be safer to people who are not driving. Trust follows – in fact, among low-trust people, seeing the state provide meaningful tangible change is what can create trust, and not endless public meetings in which an untrusted state professes its commitment to social justice.

What is trust before streets?

The trust before streets mentality, as currently used, means that the state has to first of all establish buy-in before doing anything. Concretely, if the goal is to make the streets safer for pedestrians, the state must not just build a pop-up bike lane or a pedestrian plaza overnight, the way Janette Sadik-Khan did in New York, because that is insensitive to area residents. Instead, it must conduct extensive public outreach to meet people where they’re at, which involves selling the idea to intermediaries first.

This is always sold as a racial justice or social justice measure, and thus the idea of trust centers low-income areas and majority-minority neighborhoods (and in big American cities they’re usually the same – usually). Thus, the idea of trust before streets is that it is racist to just build a pedestrian plaza or bus lanes – it may not be an improvement, and if it is, it may induce gentrification. I’ve seen people in Boston say trust before streets to caution against the electrification of the Fairmount Line just because of one article asserting there are complaints about gentrification in Dorchester, the low-income diverse neighborhood the line passes through (in reality, the white population share of Dorchester is flat, which is not the case in genuinely gentrifying American neighborhoods like Bushwick).

I’ve equally seen people use the expression generational trauma. In this way, the trust before streets mentality is oppositional to investments in state capacity. The state in a white-majority nation is itself white-majority, and people who think in terms of neighborhood autonomy find it unsettling.

Low trust and tangible results

The reality of low-trust politics is about the opposite of what educated Americans think it is. It is incredibly concrete. Abstract ideas like social justice, rights, democracy, and free speech do not exist in that reality, to the point that authoritarian populists have exploited low-trust societies like those of Eastern Europe to produce democratic backsliding. A Swede or a German may care about the value of their institutions and punish parties that run against them, but an Israeli or a Hungarian or a Pole does not.

In Israel, this is visible in the corona crisis: Netanyahu’s popularity, as expressed in election polls, has recently risen and fallen based on how Israel compares with the Western world when it comes to handling corona. In March, there was a rally-around-the-flag effect in Israel as elsewhere, giving Netanyahu cover to refuse to concede even though parties that pledged to replace him as prime minister with Benny Gantz got 62 out of 120 seats, and giving Gantz cover not to respond to hardball with hardball and instead join as a minister in Netanyahu’s government. Then in April and May, as Israel suppressed the first wave and had far better outcomes than nearly every European country, let alone the US, Netanyahu’s popularity surged while that of Gantz and the opposition cratered. The means did not matter – the entire package including voluntary quarantine hotels, Shin Bet surveillance for contact tracing, and a tight lockdown that Netanyahu, President Rivlin, and several ministers violated nonchalantly, was seen to produce results.

In the summer, this went in reverse. The second wave hit Israel earlier than elsewhere, and by late summer, its infection rate per capita was in the global top ten, and Israel had the largest population among those top ten countries. In late September it reached around 6,000 cases a day, around 650 per million people. The popularity of Netanyahu’s coalition was accordingly shot; Gantz himself is being nearly wiped out in the polls, but the opposition was holding steady, and Yamina, a party to the right of Likud led by Naftali Bennett that is not currently in the coalition and is perceived as more competent, Bennett himself having done a lot to moderate the party’s line, surged from its tradition 5-6 seats to 16.

Today the situation is unclear – Israelis have seen the state fight the second wave but it was not nearly as successful as in the spring, and right now there is a lot of chaos with vaccination. On the other hand, Israel is also the world’s vaccination capital, and eventually people will notice that by March Israel is (most likely) fully vaccinated while Germany is less than 10% vaccinated. Low-trust people notice results. If they’re disaffected with Netanyahu’s conduct, which most people are, they can then vote for a right-wing-light satellite party like New Hope, just as many voted Kulanu in 2015, which advertised itself as center, became kingmaker after the results were announced, and immediately joined under Netanyahu without trying to seriously negotiate.

Streets lead to trust

The story of corona in Israel does not exist in isolation. Low trust in many cases exists because people perceive the state to be hostile to their interests, which happens when it does not provide tangible goods. Many years ago, talking about his own history immigrating from the Soviet Union in the 1970s, Shalom Boguslavsky credited the welfare state for his integration, saying that if he’d immigrated in the 1990s he’d probably have ended up in a housing project in Ashdod and voted for Avigdor Lieberman, who at the time was running on Russian resentment more than anything.

In Northern Europe, perhaps trust is high precisely because the state provides things. My total mistrust of the German state in general and Berlin in particular is tempered by the fact that, at queer meetups, people remind me that Berlin’s center-left coalition has passed universal daycare, on a sliding scale ranging from 0 for poor parents to about €100/month for wealthy ones. This more than anything reminds me and others that the state is good for things other than dithering on corona and negatively stereotyping immigrant neighborhoods.

Such provisions of tangible goods cannot happen in a trust before streets environment. This works when the state takes action, and endless public meetings in which every objection must be taken seriously are the death of the state. It says a lot that in contrast with Northern Europe, in the United States even in wealthy left-wing cities it is unthinkable that the municipality can just raise taxes to pay teachers and social workers better. Low trust is downstream of low state capacity. Build the streets and trust will follow.


  1. michaelrjames

    Agreed. But one can see why trust is so low in the Anglosphere, and how difficult it is to change.
    Here’s Sadik-Khan in the preface to the book Streetfight:

    For leaders, overcoming obsolete thinking demands the resolve, courage, and grit to withstand the slings and arrows that inevitably follow change. I discovered that it was more effective to use the language of choice and safety while working with local communities to put rapid-fire projects on the ground. We moved in real time, with materials we had on hand. Our projects then became instruments for the public to gain understanding, providing the support we needed to expand our approach. The fast implementation of projects proved to be far more effective than the traditional model of attempting to achieve near unanimity on projects even when you already have consensus that the status quo doesn’t work. Efforts to reach an idealised consensus have resulted in years of indecision, inaction, and paralysis-by-analysis as leaders attempt to placate the opposition that accompanies any change to streets. Every community has excuses for why changing the way they use heir streets is impossible, impractical, or just insane. I leaned firsthand that there is no end to the reasons for inaction. But inaction is inexcusable.

    The reality is that there has already been lots of consultation and public education on most important issues, eg. climate-change, traffic-calming measures, urban densification etc. Those who are opposed are extremely unlikely to have their minds changed by any more such consultation. Fast implementation of modest or pilot, or as you said pop-up projects can change minds, and apparently did in NYC. Mostly because all the predictions of bad things simply don’t occur.

    • Alon Levy

      Just remember that trust is not uniquely low in the Anglosphere. Korea, for example, is a pretty low-trust society. Southern Europe, same.

      Re consensus: it actually works pretty well here. The rub is that decisions are made by majority rule, but the majority changes on different issues. Switzerland for example has very few veto points – referendums require a double majority, but I don’t think of any recent issue that had a popular vote majority but not a double majority. So this leads to depoliticization of institutions, because everyone expects to be the minority on some issue. It’s nothing like the veto-laden system at the EU level, or in the US.

      • Herbert

        Even the German federal government is usually in a position of very limited freedom of action because major things need Bundesrat approval and due to the way it’s set up and the federalization of state elections (watch any given state election and at 18:00 at least one candidate will excuse the poor performance of their party by pointing at federal results) there’s virtually always a blockade majority in the Bundesrat. So while Switzerland has open consensus democracy with referenda, Germany has opaque consensus democracy with referenda and quite often politicians on all levels rightly or wrongly excuse inaction pointing to some other decision making place.

        That said, Bodo Ramelow of Thuringia got electrification of the MDV through by trading his state’s approval of Scheuer’s toll proposal for it…

        • Eric2

          “federalization of state elections”

          Just curious, is this a recent thing, brought on by the internet and social media? Because it seems that way in the US…

          • Matthew Hutton

            I thought that was a reason the 17th amendment was passed. I might be wrong.

          • Herbert

            In Germany the way the Bundesrat is set up (it’s delegates from the states bound by what the state government wants) it is actually rational to treat state elections as “partial federal elections”.

            If you asked me, having the Bundesrat directly elected would be better…

          • Henry

            The 17th amendment was more about eliminating blatant patronage and deadlocked state legislatures being unable to send a senator they could agree on.

          • Michael Whelan

            The German system is set up the same way the American system was prior to the 17th Amendment. The state government appoints its delegation to the Bundesrat the same way American state legislators used to appoint senators. Germany would probably benefit from the same reform that the United States passed with the 17th Amendment, although the problem of nationalization here is worse than ever, due to the atrophy of local media. So, don’t count on the reform doing anything more than a modest job of localizing German subnational politics.

          • Alon Levy

            An important difference is that here we have more than two political parties, which means that it’s fine for state parties to be national because the coalitions just shift. For example, Berlin has been SPD-run for 20 years, but now that nobody likes Müller, at least based on pre-corona polls the Greens are slated to become the largest party this year and be the senior partner in the coalition.

          • Herbert

            Except for one difference between pre progressive U.S. Senate and the Bundesrat: the Bundesrat has an imperative mandate – the Senate of the U.S. never had.

          • Herbert

            Still there are “dominant party” states like Bavaria with the CSU basically running the show for most of the existence of elections in Bavaria…

      • michaelrjames

        @Alon: “Just remember that trust is not uniquely low in the Anglosphere.”

        I disagree. Trust is extraordinarily low in the two leading Anglosphere nations such that they have voted for extraordinarily self-destructive politics.
        I am not familiar enough with Korea but it seems relatively normal, and to be expected as a country goes thru the development cycle. It matters little to new generations that leadership has dragged the country from dirt poor to rich in one generation when they can see they personally are considerably disadvantaged relative to both their own society and globally (Korea has low average wages and one of the bigger inequalities), plus the craziest and most stressful education system that in principle should be the means of opportunity and levelling.

        As usual, it is the sans culottes the immediate cause (voting for Trump, Boris & Brexit) though of course, also as usual, it is the powerful manipulating low-information voters. They are voting against their own best interests because nothing else has worked. It’s still unclear if a Biden administration will be any different to BAU, while in the UK Starmer (note “Sir” Kier, howzat for sending the wrong-or perhaps the correct–message to your blue- and no-collar constituency) and Labour just voted in parliament with Boris for the Brexit deal (in a situation where their vote would not have changed outcomes). This sends the message that Brexit has the full support of the whole (English) political class. Whatever short-termist tactics the political gurus have used to justify it, strategically it is the most massive blunder (why would you support the ‘other’ party who supports the same thing just in a more lukewarm fashion?). It is the equivalent of Obama rewarding the creeps of Wall Street who were the cause of the problem (GFC and inequality) instead of throwing some of them in jail, or at the very bare minimum banning them from using government bail-out money to give themselves bonuses.

        • Mike

          All correct but nonetheless Alon is right about Southern Europe. In the Mezzogiorno the state barely exists. As a result people build what they like where they like, the health system is in collapse and organise crime is rampant. Naples is the only European city I’ve visited where the bus system was cut because they’d run out of petrol.

          • michaelrjames

            Well yes, but you are doing some serious cherry-picking. I’m comparing entire nations while you are picking the worst city, Naples, in one of the worst EU members. Not the case in their most important city, Milan. And despite all its well known problems and dysfunction I’m not sure it is worse than, say East St Louis or Detroit which I passed thru in 1980 and have never seen anything like it anywhere in the world (I forget the street–a main artery, not Telegraph–we drove past mile and mile after mile of burnt-out boarded up shops, even then a decade and a half after the riots; I suppose there are places in Somalia or Sudan …). (I know, that is horribly dated and Detroit is hipster heaven these days … allegedly)
            What happens in Naples doesn’t really affect the rest of the world much. Not only do the leading Anglospherians have huge impact on the world, as two original democracies, somehow we have higher expectations.

  2. Herbert

    It’s a good excuse for politicians to not move. When activists demand something be done about people literally dying in the streets, politicians can say “we need public consultation” to delay, delay, delay. After all, who in their right mind says “people should have less of a say than they currently do”?

    But if you look at the Covid induced pop-up bike lanes in Berlin or the superblocs in Barcelona, they only became popular AFTER implementation, not before.

    Thankfully in many German cities there are “Fahrrad Volksentscheide” (the most notable in Berlin which resulted in the new “mobility law”) which force local politicians to act at least somewhat.

    In Berlin a big problem is that everything takes ages. Red red green said in 2016 that they wanted trams in Adlershof, at Turmstraße, Ostkreuz and in Kreuzberg by the end of their five year term. Now they can count themselves lucky if the first shovels hit the dirt before the election…

    And there are loads of bunching buses where tramification or even a well enforced bus lane seem not even on the horizon…

  3. Eric2

    Yes, I do get the impression that much of left-wing policy is designed not to benefit people in general as to benefit the class of left-wing activists specifically. “Trust before streets” being a way of giving the activists as much veto power as possible.

    Which is sad because I do support much of what *should* be left-wing policy, like a strong social safety net, good transit, etc.

    • Matthew Hutton

      As long as it’s not too ambitious endless consultation is bad. Consultation should be quick and defined.

    • Bobson Dugnutt

      @Eric2, I can’t say for sure the motives of activists are cynical. We’d have to know their intention was to enter a space and attract a movement around it.

      Do you know of the theories of UConn professor Peter Turchin? One of his hypotheses is that social instability is caused by an overproduction of elites. Notably, today’s generation of progressive left and social justice left thought-leaders and movement-leaders tend to be overeducated. They have post-graduate degrees but are notably activisting outside of the academy or the courthouse. Turchin theorizes that left-activists turned to social justice out of frustration of being frozen out of elite communities.

      • Alon Levy

        Is that the guy who claims there was no social instability in the US during the Great Depression? Or is that a derivative work building on the overproduction-of-degrees theory? Either way it’s a nutty theory. Education is a good thing and an educated population is a more productive one and there’s pretty extensive economic research on this (Glaeser has papers on this, for example). There are people who make up reasons why it’s not so, either because they personally dislike the politics of professors or because they romanticize the educational demographics of the 1950s and 60s; in either case it’s silly and Americans and Europeans need to move on from an ignorant past toward a more cosmopolitan future.

        • Herbert

          I think there’s a pretty good correlation between university graduates as a share of the population and GDP. Now one could argue which way it goes, but I’m pretty sure Japan (which had the first and shortly thereafter the second during the Meiji era) is a good case study that it’s education that causes GDP growth more than the other way ’round… Or are there particularly high numbers of oil funded degrees?

          • Alon Levy

            A bunch of American populists think education is bad because educated people vote against populists; they get some support from various industrialists who don’t like the politics of professors, especially when those professors say annoying things like “Facebook helps fake news spread.” That’s all there is to it. It’s all bad faith theories and complete cranks: the overproduction-of-elites hypothesis argues that the Great Depression was not a time of social strife.

  4. Andrew J

    It’s more basic than that, imo. The kind of public process you described only engages the extremely engaged subset of the population. The local version of extremely online, public meetings are not real life.

    There are pretty sharp diminishing returns on public meeting engagement and no real way for this kind of process to achieve broad levels of trust.

    • Matthew Hutton

      The problem is if you get rid of the public consultation process you’ll just get private lobbying instead to replace it. And rather than 80-90% of the comments coming from political insiders 100% of them will.

      Besides in general it’s not super hard to become a political insider. If you ask your representative and say you are interested in a certain topic area then any competent representative would pass over the details to you – other options would be to go along to community meetings etc. I’m certainly a political insider where I live and I moved fairly recently.

      I also don’t think public consultations add a significant time burden to decision making. Even if you have two public consultations for a project the window for making comments is usually only 4-6 weeks per window. That’s not causing the inability of a government to start constructing a tram line within 5 years – especially as I’m sure some other useful work can be done in parallel.

      • michaelrjames

        @Matthew Hutton: “I also don’t think public consultations add a significant time burden to decision making.”

        I am reminded of the epic of building Sizewell ‘B’ nuclear generator. The UK is the unchallenged world record holder for pointless and expensive and endless official enquiries into doing stuff they should have done decades earlier, and this one may be the top one yet (though CrossRail is another, being first proposed in the late 40s; and HS2 is on track (sic) to join it; at only 12 years HS1 was done with lightning speed!). In the early 80s they began the first enquiries into building the thing, though it was first proposed in 1969, with a ‘final’ choice (of UK’s first and only PWR) in 1980. It was still rolling on when I left for France. Then after about a decade I returned to the UK, the enquiry was still going on–actually the enquiry had concluded but the public and political arguments rolled on. It eventually got built and was commissioned in 1995. To this day it is recognised as the UK’s longest public enquiry.
        Meanwhile, just this year Sizewell’s owners (EDF) have submitted the long-expected (since 2009) plan to build Sizewell C, a third EPR for the UK, but it can’t go anywhere until the first two EPRs at Hinkley Point C make progress, so you know, another decade or so …

        Having said all that, it may well be that the public enquiry wasn’t really the delay which was the standard MO of all British infrastructure projects in the post-war period. A lengthy public enquiry may just be the SOP to bring this delay about.

        • Matthew Hutton

          So really your criticism is that the public sector is as useless as a chocolate teapot when it comes to organising and completing projects in a timely manner which I completely agree with.

          The flaws with the public sector in my experience is that they are excessively rules bound and completely over-paranoid about making mistakes. These projects are complex – mistakes will be made and that’s OK.

          And maybe they should also be trying more modern project management techniques as well – as those do have a reputation for delivering faster results and being more flexible.

          • michaelrjames

            @Matthew Hutton: “So really your criticism is that the public sector is as useless as a chocolate teapot when it comes to organising and completing projects in a timely manner”

            No, not explicitly the public sector, but the Anglosphere public sector and it is not necessarily incompetence but by design. After all, no one can deny the great age of Victorian engineers who reshaped the world. So it depends on what a society values and the politicians it elects. In the UK and USA since Ronnie/Maggie they have overvalued financial things and undervalued doing stuff. Be sure not to condemn the public sector to imagine the private sector can and will step in and do what is necessary. Both countries show what happens with that approach: not only does maintenance of critical infrastructure get low priority (no mega-profits) like roads, bridges, water supplies, transit etc but the cost of building infrastructure hyper-inflates.

            Take the nuclear example I mentioned in the previous post. No accident that the two EPRs at UK’s Hinkley Point are being built by a French-Chinese consortium which completed two French-design EPRs in 2018-19 in China. However at £24bn it is about 10 to 15 times the cost per MW than the Taishan plants, for reasons that are entirely opaque. Despite providing tens of billions of dollars in federal loan guarantees in the Obama era, all the attempts at new-build US reactors (two at VC Summer in NC; two at Vogtle in Georgia) have been abandoned, with the only nuclear gen plant completed in the last 25 years being one that was abandoned half-built in the 80s. Unit 2 at Watts Bar, TN, was abandoned in 1988 and restarted in 2007 and completed in 2015, probably the longest build nuke ever at 30+ years. Though they are just modified AP1000s (a design originating in the 70s) and so delivering 60% of nameplate power of the EPR, Vogtle estimated cost of completion reached US$27bn before throwing in the white towel.

            The point is that it is no accident that French Areva and Chinese Taishan have been championed by their national governments while any private builders like Westinghouse-Toshiba have floundered and failed.

            Currently we are seeing the disaster of weak central government in the pandemic. Even though some 30 million vaccine doses were available only about 3-4m have been administered in December. Administering vaccines is not that difficult but the problem appears to be lack of central coordination.

          • Matthew Hutton

            I agree with you about infrastructure costs in the UK being out of this world. I don’t agree that we need to centralise more – if anything we need to centralise less.

          • adirondacker12800

            However at £24bn it is about 10 to 15 times the cost per MW than the Taishan plants, for reasons that are entirely opaque.
            WIkipedia says Taishan cost 7,5 billion dollars which is 5.5 billion pounds. At the moment anyway.
            Nuclear power is 2005 thinking. Dogger Bank Wind Farm is going to produce more power and be cheaper. I had a reason to check the price of 10,000 mAh powerbanks recently. Batteries are getting too cheap to be building nuclear power plants.

          • michaelrjames


            I was using the cited cost of power of Taishan of $2.14 per W versus Hinkley at £18bn to £24bn or US$23.78 to $31.69 per W. But ok, maybe it’s only a factor ≈5 more expensive …(but see below for update).

            Funny enough clean energy is one area that the UK are doing quite well. Not as good as France due to their nuclear gens built 30 years ago but pretty good. But much better than Japan which, being a similar island nation, has similar vast wind capacity. In another paradox it is due to the accident that Thatcher was a trained chemist and when told about the mechanism of global warming in the 1970s she accepted the science and that diffused the issue from the hyperpartisan toxic politics surrounding the issue elsewhere in the Anglosphere (USA and Australia where the chief poison came from a decade of rantings from Tony Abbott who in another paradox was a Thatcher groupie; the current torch-bearer for fossil fuels is another Rhodie, Angus Taylor current federal minister ).

            The Dogger Bank scheme is brilliant because it allows the harnessing of strong North Sea winds but from the relative shallows of the bank (which is huge; apparently the proposed scheme could be expanded tenfold or more; the Danes, Germans and Dutch are planning a joint project on “their” part of the bank). Offshore wind power has much higher capacity factors than onshore at average 40.4% for UK in 2019, compared to onshore between 20 to 30%. Nevertheless compare that to average of 90% for nuclear which means you should be adjusting Dogger Bank’s nameplate capacity from 4.8GW to 1.92GW while Hinkley C will reduce to 3.1GW so still 64% higher than Dogger’s (theoretical).

            A 2019 report: Contracts for Difference (CfD) Allocation Round – of which one received a record low strike price of £39.65/MWh [for Dogger Bank] and the other two a similarly low strike price of £41.611/MWh. That compares to the £92.50 for the Hinkley nuclear facility, which will rise to at least £110/MWh by the time it commences production in 2025.

            So UK nuclear is about twice as expensive as offshore wind (though neither have been built), however that doesn’t include factors such as extra capacity required to compensate for when those wind turbines aren’t delivering. The Brits are wise to keep their nuke capacity even if they can’t keep costs to established norms. Without it they would have to retain a mix of coal and gas generators. No, batteries at this scale are not feasible and not affordable not to mention requiring replacement at least 3-4 times during the life of a nuclear plant. I’m too lazy to do the calcs but you’d need maybe a billion of those batteries; this is why Australia is going the route of pumped-hydro which have huge capacity and very long life (up to 120 years). FWIW, in my published pieces on this issue (eg. here) I don’t support nuclear for Australia because we don’t have any, but for those countries (France, Germany, UK etc) with substantial and well-run nuclear power it makes sense (and an environmental imperative) to continue their programs to help get thru the next half-century transition to completely renewable low-carbon generation.

            Final (political) point: Dogger Bank is being built by Equinor and SSE Renewables, respectively Norway govt-owned Statoil and Irish energy companies, with equipment by GE. No Brits. Because that same Thatcher chose to fritter away the huge windfall (sic) of North Sea oil revenues instead of investing it into productive industry like the Norweigans did.

          • Eric2

            I think renewables+batteries will be enough to supply most countries, assuming battery technology advances fast enough. But for dense countries like India and Japan, there simply aren’t enough renewable resources, and nuclear will be needed. Possibly China too.

          • michaelrjames

            Not at all. Wind is fairly universally distributed and just 2% of the world’s wind potential would power the world. Being a island archipeligo Japan is rich in wind energy potential though it doesn’t have the shallow seas like the UK’s Dogger Bank so it will have to use the more expensive floating turbines. Japan has been very tardy w.r.t. renewable energy in general and wind power in particular but it has huge potential, like the UK, for offshore. The International Energy Agency estimates Japan has enough technical potential to satisfy its entire power needs nine times over.

            “Japan has enormous potential to build large-scale offshore wind farms, a potential of 128 GW for fixed bottom and 424 GW for floating wind,” said Jin Kato, president of JWPA, at a press conference.

            Compare that to the ≈48GW of installed nuclear gen which was about 30% of total electricity up to the 2011 nuclear accident.
            The odd thing is that Japan has the world’s largest pumped-hydro energy storage (PHES) with 23GW installed–enough to provide 4h of the national grid per day. Most of it uses the variable-speed turbine systems that greatly improve efficiency and flexibility. They also pioneered seawater PHES. They built it to allow mass storage of their nuclear excess output (overnight) which otherwise would go to waste in the diurnal cycle. France, with the highest nuclear penetration actually has its nuclear generators load follow which is not done by anyone else (most run them at their max capacity of ≈90% permanently, because most don’t have too much nuclear to unbalance their grids).
            In any case the PHES can perfectly serve a renewable energy grid of solar and wind.
            I don’t know why Japan is so slow to do these things because it would pay for itself as Japan is the most import-dependent energy nation in the developed world. Apparently 1GW of wind turbines would save US$300m on energy imports each year (coal, LNG, uranium).

          • michaelrjames

            Like most new technologies in the adoption phase. That’s why governments need to subsidise such things, just like solar and early wind turbines were subsidised until scale and technology improvements catch up. It’s why the Japanese subsidise offshore wind at about twice the rate of onshore. McKinsey says:

            Cost competitiveness. Japan needs to forge a path toward cost competitiveness with established energy sources (see sidebar “Cost-reduction opportunities along the value chain”). Local geographic challenges, such as deep water, steep coasts, and wind speeds that are alternately too low or too high, make Japan’s offshore wind energy more expensive than that of other regions, including Taiwan, Europe, and the East Coast of the United States. To achieve similar prices, Japan will need to cut the high feed-in-tariff levels of ¥36/kWh (about $300 per MWh) it is paying for its first six port and harbor projects. Only then will it be able to reduce the high LCOE11 for these and future projects.
            Case study: Taiwan and the United States have shown that moving quickly from a feed-in tariff to an auction-based model can significantly reduce the cost of developing offshore wind power. Implementing a clear process generates increased political will among key players, makes it easier to attract commercial partners, and ends the public misperception that offshore is too expensive to be a viable option.

            But Japan has lost a decade since it was obvious it should have begun such things at the time of Fukushima, if not of course a decade before that. As one of the world’s great industrial powers (and energy users) it should have played a much more significant role in alternative energy R&D. But then it couldn’t even run an old industry like nuclear power very well.

          • Eric2

            So then we should rely on fusion power? It’s even earlier than floating wind in the adoption phase, which proves it will be even cheaper! QED

          • michaelrjames

            @Eric2: “It’s even earlier than floating wind in the adoption phase, which proves it will be even cheaper! QED”

            Yeah, because that’s exactly what I said.

            Well, Japan is one of the funders of the biggest science/technology experiments evah, the ITER in Cadarache, France. Though the UK will drop out as a consequence of its dropping out of many things beginning 3 days ago; a perverse action since Euratom is distinct from the EU. Sad.
            Anyway, I believe they are running behind schedule due to a shortage of dilithium crystals, so Eric2 you might be able to help them out as you inhabit the far edges of the alpha-sector. Maybe you can do a trade with the Kardashians?

          • バニートルーパー (@archie4oz)

            @michaelrjames: “But Japan has lost a decade since it was obvious it should have begun such things at the time of Fukushima, if not of course a decade before that. As one of the world’s great industrial powers (and energy users) it should have played a much more significant role in alternative energy R&D.”

            It has been. Just in solar, not wind. It’s installed over 50GW in capacity since 2011.

            “But then it couldn’t even run an old industry like nuclear power very well.

            By this measure, nobody does.

          • michaelrjames


            OK, my recollection was out of date, and they seem to have seriously picked up speed since about 2015/16. Better late than never. However, my criticisms largely stand because while solar can be useful, for northern parts of the northern hemisphere it will never be enough. First, that 50GW or whatever, is nameplate and the average efficiency is 15-18% (anything higher is only in R&D) so it becomes 9GW delivered. Second, those are maxima and entirely dependent on insolation. Japan has quite high variability (as expected for an island nation) but at the latitude of Tokyo it is a average (over a year) of 3.2 kWh/(m2·day). Compare that to 4.77 for Sydney (but actual commercial installations in Oz will achieve double that by being west of the ranges, much less cloud cover). Third, the real problem however is the seasonal lows, with only 1.08 kWh/(m2·day) in December and 4 months less than 2.0, while Sydney has a low of 2.78 but only a single month with the other winter months still 3.0-4.0. It will be even worse than these figures suggest because most domestic installations are fixed geometry so will be even less efficient in winter in Japan.
            Now, I said that Japan’s large PHES (23GW) is ideal for intermittent energy sources (or excess nuclear) but it doesn’t store enough energy to get thru a winter season. It can keep a certain amount in permanent reserve for those periods of extended low input from renewables but that is measured in days not weeks or months.

            This is why the Europeans, particularly the northern ones and notably the UK (which has poorer insolation than mainland Europe), have put so much into wind which is more consistent and stronger for longer periods, including being stronger at night and in winter. Off-shore is even better–more consistent and much stronger (in the past it was often too strong and turbines had to be shutdown to avoid damage but technological improvements have largely overcome that issue). Thus why projects like Dogger Bank. Plus efficiency of capture is twice that of solar at averages of 40%+ for new offshore wind installations.
            Not just the Europeans of course, as the US is one of the world’s leaders in wind power with Texas investing more in turbines than any other form of energy in recent years (and actually closing coal gen and reducing gas usage) even though the state also has good insolation. Australia has excess of both solar and wind–I haven’t verified, but there is the constant claim that we have the world’s highest installed solar-PV per capita; there have been big subsidies for more than a decade now which the conservatives haven’t stopped (because it’s too popular and has been supported by the states regardless of which political flavour they were) though they (federal conservatives) have loony views on wind power.

            My criticisms of Japan began at the time of Fukushima because of their little interest in renewable energy. To this day Japan remains the world’s top importer of coal, LNG and oil (per cap but also absolute in some cases; we know because they are our biggest customer for thermal coal and LNG is picking up too–we’re a lot closer than Qatar). My point being that it is a country of considerable size and is an industrial power (sic) house. It should have been doing its share of R&D on renewables and that should be in the more difficult ones–but more relevant for them–namely offshore and floating wind and also tidal and/or wave power. Kudos for the PHES but they have to generate the clean energy to be able to use it.

          • michaelrjames

            Japan may take nuclear route to net zero goal
            Robin Harding, 03 Feb 2021.

            Tokyo | Nuclear power will be essential if Japan is to reach its goal of net zero carbon emissions by 2050, the country’s energy minister has told the Financial Times, saying that power shortages this winter have helped to shift public debate over the sector.

            METI is debating a new energy strategy to deliver Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga’s pledge of zero net emissions by 2050. But achieving this will mean big changes in a country where 88 per cent of the energy supply comes from fossil fuels, almost all of them imported.
            Renewables will be the top priority, said Mr Kajiyama, but the limitations of Japan’s geography will require deploying all available technologies, including imported hydrogen, nuclear power and carbon capture and storage.
            “Personally, I think nuclear power will be indispensable,” said Mr Kajiyama, who has previously worked in the nuclear industry.
            Japan’s electricity supply was “touch-and-go” during heavy snowfalls last month, he said. “Solar wasn’t generating. Wind wasn’t generating.” Electricity prices rocketed and parts of the country were close to power cuts. “I’m trying to persuade everybody that in the end we need nuclear power,” he said.

          • adirondacker12800

            He’s stuck in 2005. So are some of the other ones. Prices of renewables and/or batteries are dropping faster than the optimists were projecting. Fossil fuel is being priced out of the market.

          • michaelrjames

            @Matthew Hutton: “I don’t agree that we need to centralise more – if anything we need to centralise less.”

            Do you still believe that? Now almost 6 weeks into the covid vaccination program and only about 4m of the ≈20m doses available have been injected into people, amid reports that it is still not working …Only now, are the states about to take control and set up vaccination stations the same way they set up testing stations: at sports stadia etc where there is massive parking and it can be done drive thru. Some states are considering imposing fines ($1,000) on hospitals and clinics for every vaccine they receive and don’t actually inject within x days. They’ve had at least 6 months to prepare but it seems no one actually prepared!
            Then there’s this:
            “In Ohio, 60 percent of nursing home workers offered the shot refused to take it. That split-screen — the vaccine frenzy that coexists with high vaccine hesitancy — is typical of what’s complicated the country’s vaccine rollout so far.”

            Meanwhile Israel had injected 15% of its population as of a few days ago. Yes, small country but still, it’s not bloody rocket science (which is the trouble of course, Americans being frozen at the ten-year-old boy developmental stage–like their president–are only interested in rockets).

          • Herbert

            Can we build the foundations via seawater mineral accretion? (Marketed under “biorock”)

    • Bobson Dugnutt

      @Andrew J, the process is not set up to deliver trust as an outcome. The process certainly cannot give the kind of trust Alon describes of “trust before streets” activists. That kind of trust is intensely psychological, and the democratic process is inimical to it.

      Here’s how the trust frame is problematic, especially for those who conclude their arguments by saying problematic a lot. There’s a community often upset by a change whose grievance is rooted in speaking or hearing (i.e., “We weren’t given Voice” or “They didn’t listen to us”).

      There’s clearly a power imbalance dynamic at work here. And the aggrieved community makes an error by saying the loud parts quietly. They frame their moral power in possessing a victimhood status and desire a goal without confrontation because that would be unnerving (hence the use of trauma psychology terms of art).

      When they must engage a power system that doesn’t process psychology, the powerful interpret these demands as an opportunity for confrontation or negotiation. The latter affords give-and-take between adversarial groups and not a desire to see opponents defeated. Power then gains leverage by reframing the groups’ demands as either-or. It’s road diets or a more therapeutic process, because power interprets Voice and Listening as tangible demands that can be traded.

      What often happens is something more insidious. A community will create a shitshow of “visioning hearings” where the participants can weigh in on what kind of improvements they give in the community. These are often given long timelines and participants are never given constrains to work with (like a budget limit or rules saying, say, no private property can be taken for the improvement). These hearings are purely performative, and especially for those who bolster their arguments by saying performative a lot, the substantive actions and processes were front-loaded and settled before the meetings. These hearings don’t have any bearing on the alternatives analyses and action votes, which are the truly substantive parts of the political process.

  5. Matthew

    The trouble comes when governments build big motorways, interchanges and parking garages ‘before trust’.

    It’s not just something from the 60s. It’s still happening.

    • Alon Levy

      Yes, and of note, they still do that. Trust-before-streets, Title VI, NEPA, and other left-wing impositions never bind politicians and never bind the status quo, they only bind the civil service and they only bind change.

      • Onux

        If that is the case, then isn’t the real issue that the majority of politicians don’t support the policies in question (ultimately because the electorate doesn’t feel strongly enough)? Sadik-Kahn didn’t hold a lot of community meetings regarding bike lanes and pedestrian plazas, but Bloomberg also didn’t tell her no( or fire her). If he had, they wouldn’t have happened.

        Community engagement can take time, but Bloomberg pushed through the 7 extension before the end of his term and Cuomo had SAS finished at the end of 2016 for a Jan 1 opening because they wanted to. The power to go faster is always there, just not always used.

        If you are arguing that civil servants should have the power to do what they want without accountability to the public, I don’t see how that is a plan that will actually build public trust over the long run.

        • michaelrjames

          @Onux: “Sadik-Khan didn’t hold a lot of community meetings regarding bike lanes and pedestrian plazas …”

          page 191 of Streetfight by Sadik-Khan:

          We had spent several weeks documenting the intensive bike-share location siting outreach process in a twenty-nine-page report, which we blasted out to hundreds of journalists. We bludgeoned city transportation reporters with the facts: over eighteen months we had held 159 public meetings, a number that grew to nearly 400 when counting additional face-to-face meetings our staff had with elected officials, civic groups, business owners, property owners, and others about where to place the stations. We unfurled detailed maps at these meetings that New Yorkers could mark up, denoting where they did and didn’t want stations. These meetings, which alone constituted the greatest public outreach effort for almost any single transportation project in the city’s history, were supplemented by an online outreach portal where people who couldn’t make our meetings could weigh in on where they wanted stations. All told, the portal received 65,000 suggestions and indications of support on the portal’s geo-coded map–the most advanced form of crowdsourcing we had yet used. By the time the first station would have gone in, station locations would have been public for nearly a year.

          The thing that you are remembering is the relentless opposition from the likes of Rupert’s NY Post whose record for honesty and facts are well known (and often comical). And tv items zoning in on the squeakiest wheel, in some retailer complaining that they weren’t consulted about the bike station being installed in front of their store. As Sadik-Khan says:

          It seemed no one cared about these 159 meetings. But this dismissal was in fact a good sign. We knew from the punishing backlash two years earlier that meetings and supporting resolutions and letters of support from community boards, elected officials, and civic and business associations would not be enough to keep back critics. We directed the public and reporters to bike share presentations we posted online, and dedicated an entire team to identifying bike station locations and conducting door-to-door outreach to businesses near stations. We had to call attention to our meetings to the point where reporters and the general public had gotten sick of hearing us describe how nauseatingly great our outreach was. The events leading up to the launch in spring 2013 proved this strategy right.

          So, they did all they could do to inform and consult the public but knew they would never achieve some happy consensus. Implementation would be required to finish the job, when all the outreach especially to the media (except Rupert of course, though his reporters will often be responsive) has an effect in tamping down the fictitous outrage and false claims were not blown up (as usual) by that media.

          • michaelrjames

            Crap. Alon, feel free to insert the missing “<" (and delete this post).

          • michaelrjames

            Double crap. Just replace with Khan. (typically I was being too smart alec). (and delete this post too).

        • Nathanael

          —>If that is the case, then isn’t the real issue that the majority of politicians don’t support the policies in question<—

          Ding ding ding, we have a winner.

          In a sense, the public consultation should be happening BEFORE the election.

      • adirondacker12800

        Trust-before-streets, Title VI, NEPA, and other left-wing impositions

        Pesky democracy rears it’s ugly head again. And the right, even with the endless whining about snail darters etc. loves them. They can sue to stop almost anything.

        • Alon Levy

          It’s not democracy when the electoral majority can’t build something it agrees it wants because someone on the Peninsula can sue it to death.

          • adirondacker12800

            Then the majority has to change the laws that are being leveraged. Pesky democracy enacting laws that aren’t to your tastes.

          • Alon Levy

            Congress passes about one law per year. You may note how every gay rights advance in the last 20 years in the US a) came from the courts, and b) was popular in the polls when the decision passed. This even includes stuff that almost happened legislatively, like DADT repeal – it was held up with filibusters and then it passed but implementation was still delayed until there was a court ruling. This isn’t pesky democracy, this is state paralysis. So no, the endless rounds of review before everything are not the expression of any democratic will, they’re just accumulated cruft.

          • Herbert

            The U.S. needs a reset. New constitution written by those who weren’t powerful under the old one and a replacement of elites. The only question is: how much more blood must be spilled before such a thing occurs?

          • Eric2

            A lot of gay rights stuff passed at the state level (in legislatures as well as courts) before it passed at the federal level.

            And the most important US court decision of the last 50+ years – Roe v Wade – has had very negative side effects. Specifically, masses of Americans who don’t particularly like the Republican agenda reliably vote Republican for the sole reason that they will appoint anti-abortion judges. That alone arguably guarantees Republicans a permanent chokehold on Congress and creates the paralysis we are talking about.

          • Alon Levy

            Wait, what?

            1. The Republican Revolution happened 21 years after Roe.

            2. The Republican House bias is sustained by gerrymandering coming from the 2010 midterm, which happened not because of abortion but because of Obamacare and high unemployment.

            3. The Republican Senate (and EC) bias is sustained by educational polarization, which is not about abortion and did not exist before Trump. It’s vaguely about immigration, except not really, it intensified in 2020 even though immigration was not a major campaign point for either side, to the point that ancestrally Republican immigrants who voted against Trump in 2016, e.g. the Cubans, came back home to vote against socialism. It’s mostly just party ID at this point.

            4. Roe was decently popular in 1973 and, as Catholic Democrats realigned faster than Protestant Republicans, very popular by the 1980s; the median senator’s opinion on abortion today is not far to the right of Roe. The only civil rights-oriented SCOTUS rulings that were genuinely unpopular at the time were Loving vs. Virginia, which took a generation to get popular support, and various criminal justice rulings like death penalty abolition that were reversed within a few years.

          • adirondacker12800

            Congress passed more than one law this session and even managed to override a Trump veto. It’s a pity elected officials don’t do what you want. And then people vote for them anyway. Pesky democracy.

          • Onux


            1. I think you underestimate the impact of abortion on the US electorate. That Republicans didn’t gain power until 1994 does not mean many people were voting R before and since strictly based on opposition to abortion. Ruth Bader Ginsburg of all people said Roe was a bad decision that short circuited the the growing consensus on legalizing abortion and made it a decisive issue.

            2. What bias? In 2020 Dems got 50.8% of the popular vote and 51% of seats, Reps got 47.7 and 48.9%. Pretty equal, even proportional representation systems can’t match perfectly due to finite seats.

            3. What bias? Dems and Reps each have 50% of seats. Looking at House vote percentages you could maybe say Reps owe a seat to a third party composite, but not that Dems would get more.

            4. Roe is nowhere near the US median opinion on abortion. Phrased as “always/sometimes/never” legal Americans overwhelmingly choose legal abortion over full ban. Phrased as “always/mostly/rarely/never” legal and a majority choose rarely or never. Roe allows abortion to 28 weeks, while in Germany the limit is 12 (after mandatory counseling and a waiting period! Planned Parenthood would be outraged) except extreme circumstances. In Norway even special circumstances are not allowed after 22 weeks, and some women have had abortion requests denied by officials after 12 weeks.

          • Nathanael

            Alon — you perhaps have not mentioned the effect of gerrymandering and malapportionment.

            In NY, for example, same-sex marriage had a popular majority for years; it finally passed the legislature after the gerrymandered-into-place Republican State Senate was overwhelmed by a Democratic wave reaching about 75% of the voters, which was too much for the Republicans to gerrymander against.

            In the US, many legislatures are blocked up by a minority which wants to rule over the majority. This is certainly the case with the malapportioned US Senate — if each Senator had votes equal to the state population, a lot more would have happened.

          • Alon Levy

            Right; I do not, because the same problem occurs in areas where ideological misrepresentation is not a thing, like California or Massachusetts.

    • Herbert

      The reality of “more highways don’t solve anything” has trouble polling well literally everywhere

      • adirondacker12800

        Building more road has some connection to reality. It seems to make sense. That adding a new lane to the existing two lanes doesn’t give you 50 percent more capacity isn’t very obvious. Or that the extra capacity encourages more use. It’s difficult to measure people that decide to NOT travel. And then decide to travel because there is more capacity.
        The major hurdle is getting a fraction of the population to admit reality exists. In 2016 a poll asked “Would you support or opposing building a wall along the Atlantic Ocean to keep Muslims from entering the country from the Middle East?”
        31 percent of Trump supporters thought it was a good idea and 17 percent aren’t sure. I’m not sure if they don’t grasp how wide the Atlantic is or the concept of an ocean in general.

        • Henry Miller

          If building a road leads to more driving it is because the lack of the road is stopping people from going places they would want to. I know of plenty of rural areas where adding roads didn’t increase traffic: there already was plenty of them. In short induced demand is bunk. What it is is unmet demand.

          Now I will agree that in cities it isn’t cost effective to meet the full demand with more road. It could be done if we wanted to pay for 30 bridge levels of freeway and the like. This is why cities need good mass transit, they are throwing away the advantage of cities because people are not going all the places they would if there wasn’t all the traffic. A good mass transit system is the most cost effective way to meet the travel demands of people.

          • Herbert

            The more roads you build, the farther everything is from everything and the less attractive it becomes to do literally anything except driving.

            Parisians in the “15 minute city” have no need to drive (it’s a concept, but some places already have it) because all daily needs are within fifteen minutes of bike or walking. What’s within fifteen minutes of bike or walking of the average Angelano?

            Cities existed before mass transit. Granted, those that reached truly big size in that era were few and far between (Rome, Constantinople, Beijing, Tenochtitlan to give some examples) but they all had “fifteen minute city” approaches. The main role of rapid transit is to serve those trips that aren’t “fifteen minute city”.

            A “fifteen minute city for cars” is impossible – or else it would already exist

          • Eric2

            “A “fifteen minute city for cars” is impossible – or else it would already exist”

            It does, in places like Omaha. It’s not possible in a big city like Los Angeles, but it is in smaller cities.

            And Paris is only a “15 minute city” if you exclude going to work. Many common work trips within Paris, for example from Alesia to St Lazare station, are well over 20 minutes by metro not counting walking at each end. That is unlikely to change in the forseeable future. And that’s not even counting work trips to/from the rest of Ile de France.

          • Alon Levy

            Yeah, the basic problem with the idea of the 15-minute city is that if this city is at all desirable as a place of work, then people will gladly live at the 20-minute radius, or if need be the 60-minute radius. Auto-oriented density – let’s call it “Los Angeles” – can pack a million people into 500 km^2, which gets pretty close to being a 15-minute city for cars (I think it’s more like 15 to downtown and then 25 end to end?), but nobody needs such a city, because people will live in a bigger mcmansion with a bigger yard at the 20-minute radius.

          • Herbert

            People will commute up to 60 minutes one way, yes. But commuting is not the only trip people do on the daily. And if a city serves all commute trips by transit but is not a fifteen minute city for daily needs (school for kids, recreation, shopping, leisure activities and so on) it’ll be worse off.

            Of course people are more likely to consider the question of whether they “need” a car on how doable their commute is with(out) one, but the 15 minute city can make grocery trips walk trips even for those that drive otherwise….

          • Alon Levy

            It’s pretty normal for transit cities to be 15-minute cities on foot for routine non-work activities. Paris was such a city before Anne Hidalgo got elected; Berlin is one inside the Ring even though Müller is awful, because shopping centers tend to locate at S-Bahn transfer stations (Neukölln, Gesundbrunnen, Warschauer Strasse, etc.).

          • michaelrjames

            The notion began life as the “30 minute city” and probably was intended to include work commutes. For big cities that was obviously impractical, even with transit, so the definition has changed in recent years to the “15 minute city”. But now it doesn’t include work commutes, instead “almost all residents’ needs can be met within 15 minutes of their homes”. That’s the Hidalgo definition, and yes it is odd because Paris has been such a city for most of its history and became even more so in the past century as it densified (and in some senses gentrified). It is one of its huge charms that one can walk deux pas (two steps) from one’s apartment front door to find a boulangerie, cafe, market, pharmacie, small grocery store etc etc. I don’t mind–and I imagine it is true for most Parisians–her little PR deception because it firmly establishes the concept in residents subconscious and means it will live on. This is useful even in cities which are very far from this ideal and perhaps will never attain it. It gives planners better design criteria and the public a concept that such a thing is even possible which by itself should encourage positive thoughts towards densification:

            How the ‘15-Minute City’ Could Help Post-Pandemic Recovery
            A new C40 Cities report touts Paris’s model for putting essentials within close walking or biking distance as an economic boost for coronavirus-ravaged municipal budgets.
            Patrick Sisson, July 16, 2020

            Melbourne, Australia, for example, has a more U.S.-style development pattern. Lord Mayor Sally Capp, part of the C40 task force that developed the green agenda, said that her city ranks with Phoenix and Houston when it comes to sprawl. Pushing out has allowed Melboune to build more affordable housing — but that has only led to “unaffordable living,” she tells CityLab. Local leaders are now shifting transportation policy, including adding 40 kilometers of new bike lanes, speeding up plans to put in place more “20-minute neighborhoods,” and shoring up mass transit.

            The Bonjour Paris magazine website ran an article a few days ago about the Top Ten Markets and naturally it turned into a contest in the comments about which ones were omitted and the superiority of their local market. If only the 99% of the rest of us not in Paris but in big western cities could have such arguments.

            Singapore is aiming for a “45 minute city” and in this case it includes all journeys. As such it becomes a guiding principle to their Metro & transit system. Being an island and rich enough to build good transit, they are one of the few big cities that will be able to achieve it. Hong Kong is pretty good too–I can’t remember taking a Metro journey that was as long as 30 minutes; the one from Tung Chung near the airport to Central is 31.1km from Central and takes 27 minutes stopping at all 8 stations en route.
            This article (link below) may be of interest in that they have a table showing the accessibility of different forms (car, transit, walking, cycling) for the Australian capital cities.

            Access across Australia: mapping 30-minute cities, how do our capitals compare?
            David Levinson, Hao Wu, June 28, 2019

          • adirondacker12800

            A “fifteen minute city for cars” is impossible – or else it would already exist

            They do exist. They are small because cars can only go so far in 15 minutes. And most suburbs are, except for work trips most other trips are local. There’s not much point in driving past one big box store to get to second big box store in the same chain.

          • AJ

            Pretty much every American metro under 1MM could be characterized as a 15 minute city by car, and taking a look at the MSA list by population, pretty much every metro under 2MM has limited congestion unless it’s growing fast (Austin, Raleigh) or has very specific geographic constraints (Honolulu).

            For your “pack a million people into 500 km^2,” a better example than LA would be “Florida”? If the primary reason for the city to exist is so that everyone is 15 minutes away from a public beach or a retirement community, I think that would describe every Floridian MSA that’s not Miami (a real city), Orlando (centered on Disney), or a college town.

          • Henry Miller

            @herbert that is why I said you need to go up. Several levels of 4 lane (2 each way) with 30 floor parking garages get around those problems. It is of course a strawman, it is both obviously not economical to build that many bridges over each other; and it makes the city a ugly mess of bridge over bridges. It gives you the 15 minute city even when you include all the weird one off shops that make a city fun. You don’t need to be a big town to support a Wal-Mart big box, but if you want to support a magic shop you need a good sized city, and the draw isn’t 15 minutes it is 1 hour because not many people actually buy anything in such shops.

          • Herbert

            Accessing something by car takes more than the driving time alone. So while Wal-Mart may be a fifteen minute drive, you still need to get a parking spot, walk from the parking spot to the entrance and back. Some parking lots are larger than the average Parisian walks to their neighborhood shop

  6. tompw

    My experience with Canadian municipal government is that the process runs
    (1) Council directs staff to Solve A Problem (e.g. unsafe streets, or lack of trees in parks, or anything really).
    (2) Staff develop potential solutions (consultants are an optional extra)
    (3) The public is consulted on the potential solutions, with the context “the democratically-elected council has directed that this Problem should be Solved”
    (4) If Council approves the relevant solutions, they get implemented.

    There is democratic accountibility through the original direction and the final approval, but there isn’t he universal political need to near-unaminous consent at a local level.
    Now, this doesn’t prevent good things from not happening, but it’s far more about representative democracy than direct democracy.

    • michaelrjames


      Is that in Anglophone or in Francophone Canada, or does it not matter?

  7. Bobson Dugnutt

    Thank you for this essay, Alon. This is a refreshing glass of ice water for the left to read and understand for an effective politics going forward.

    There’s a categorial flaw in social justice politics that goes deeper than “trust before streets.” To corrupt a phrase from Karl Marx, for the social justice left, “The history of all hitherto existing society is the history of psychology.” The social justice framework reframes politics as an abusive relationship, scaled to culture. Marx theorized politics as rooted in Homo sapiens’s innate desire and frustration over mastery of the external material universe (i.e., class struggle).

    Modern social justice politics is a three-legged stool fashioned out of Marxism, the French Thought school of postmodernism (the philosophical foundation of identity politics), and grief/trauma psychology.

    This is not to say social justice politics claims have no legitimacy. This is to say that social justice politics is a substitute for other theories of politics, and it’s a deficient substitute at that. It’s a politics of learned helplessness because it doesn’t offer a claim to power. It casts power as the source of corruption of the abuser and the source of the anguish of the victim. Yet at the same time, its politics have the legalistic frame of a plaintiff (a person who has a deserving claim to a victim status) and a defendant (a person who holds power over another through a socially favored race, sexual, ethnic, religious or gender status). This sharpens the horns of a dilemma. Namely: Who has power over the powerful? Also, if power is transferred from the abuser to the victim, does the victim relinquish claim to victimhood once the source of anguish is removed? Who gets to answer these questions?

    Broaching these contradictions is in itself seen as an attempt to abuse and dominate, yet social justice politics is leaving this question open, leaving it to be resolved by an outside force.

    • Alon Levy

      the French Thought school of postmodernism (the philosophical foundation of identity politics)

      Wait… what? The connection between identity politics and Parisian philosophical fashion is pretty weak. For one, the Parisian intellectuals themselves are ignorant of critical race theory and in particular ignorant of the reality of French racism. There’s postcolonial grounding in American (and British) racial identity politics, but it’s an intellectual current that barely exists in French and that is rooted in history and sociology and not in philosophy; Edward Said was not a French postmodernist.

      Likewise, there’s the plaintiff-defendant dialectic in American social justice politics – but that’s hardly a French import, since it exists in the US writ large (e.g. in the tradition of adversarial legalism) and is entirely absent from France at all levels of politics. In France, the tradition of government by lawsuit is very weak. So for example, the US and France legalized gay marriage around the same time, both around the time it got majority support in the electorate, but in France it was done legislatively and in the US it was done by court ruling.

      • Bobson Dugnutt

        @Alon Levy, the French provenance of the American idpol framework is acknowledged. To the extent that Foucault and Derrida in particular had an idea — it was the postmodernists who disbelieved objective truth exists or is possible — they “believed” that truth is power. This isn’t intended as an aspirational phrase. The pomo notion of truth was a product of perception and force.

        On the Econospeak blog, Evergreen State College economist Peter Dorner wrote a history and critique of pomo “truth.” From “Against the Subjective Theory of Knowledge” ( ), ellipses mine:

        The story begins in France, post-1968 and post-decline-and-fall-of-the-French-Communist-Party. The legitimacy of power in France, the country of the Grandes Écoles, historically depended on claims to expertise, and the Communists had offered a pole of opposition based on “scientific” Marxism. When Communism collapsed, how could the French left oppose power? The response was to refound the movement on a posture of radical subjectivism: the experts’ claims to truth, derived from their so-called master narrative, would be refuted by a deeper truth derived from the subjective experience of the oppressed. …

        This radical subjectivism was smuggled into the United States, wrapped in innocent-looking volumes of cultural criticism, where the context was different. … Initially the subjective theory of knowledge presented itself in the American context as a more radical assertion of freedom and personal difference. It fed a pre-existing expressive conception of what it means to engage in political action, which has always had an appeal in the US, but before long it attached itself to identity politics. … In this process the critique of expertise became a critique of rationalism applied to issues involving identity. Rationalism was regarded as a rigged contest, a fig leaf for the dominant discourse, against which resistance could be grounded only in direct personal experience.

        • Alon Levy

          Okay (and this is also for df1982 below), but the French pedigree is only relevant to a very narrow sliver of the Americans in question. Far more important are domestic experiences like civil rights and the protests against the Vietnam War; the Vietnam War in particular destroyed the credibility of Cold War Liberalism, and as the post you link to notes, the Old Left could not move in to replace it because by the 1960s the crimes of communism were no longer deniable.

          On the theory side, the most important nowadays is intersectionality. Intersectionality does not exist in France, where there is a long “we must liberate their women from their culture” mentality going back to French colonialism in Algeria. The few French intellectuals who do profess a nonwhite identity are men and often defend Islamism to the point that their American equivalents are mocked as hoteps.

          There is moreover the question of top-down vs. bottom-up activity. French postmodern philosophers, as a matter of practice, are top-down. They are members of the French elite in good standing and get invited to talk shows on national TV. They write obscurely so that when people talk to them about what they wrote in their latest book, they can say “you didn’t understand, what I actually meant is ___.” It’s like writing in Latin. American social justice advocates are the exact opposite: they value clear writing and on-the-ground advocacy more than theory, to the point that the household names are journalists, rarely intellectuals – and even Kimberlé Crenshaw is rooted as a law professor and developed intersectionality in order to sue companies that were discriminating against black women. French postmodernists could never develop trust-before-streets, and not for nothing, that mentality does not exist in France, even though the French elite fully includes postmodern philosophers and the high school system teaches philosophy as a compulsory subject.

          Moreover, at least among the American social justice activists I’ve met, their intellectual references are never French, except Frantz Fanon, who advocated the socialist New Man as the path forward rather than anything recognizably postmodern. There are a lot of American references, many to Said and other postcolonialists, and some to Habermas. All the references I’ve seen among social justice-oriented American urbanists to French postmodernism are negative: “they did not consider racism or colonialism.”

          American conservatives try to construct this as a foreign menace, that is French, even lumping the Frankfurt School together with Parisian postmodernism even though Habermas opposes postmodernism as much as he does positivism. Similarly, French conservatives and even moderates, like the current minister of education, warn about the infiltration of American Islamo-leftism and cancel culture into French academia, never mind that in French academia open support for communism is normal and indigenous. Neither seems to realize how much this relies on domestic trends: the failures of Cold War Liberalism and the endurance of racism since the 1960s in the US, the need to believe silly things to own the Anglos to assert French relevance in a world in which France has been a second-tier country since 1940.

          • Bobson Dugnutt

            @Alon, wow this is … really deep in the weeds.

            These are nuances and strains among idpol, intellectual and activist communities, but unless you are steeped in these subcultures’ internal logics and folkways, to outsiders these categories you describe are distinctions without a difference.

            These are very small communities, and when they’re not expending time and energy tone-policing or enforcing purity and narcissisms of small differences among themselves, they engage a broader community with a rigid and reductionistic idea of politics. It’s laden with theory, movement-making or programming (the actual capturing and defending of power), to name a few of the more prominent strains, but political beliefs tend to be anchored and these strains evolve into doctrines.

            Yes, pomo American and French idpols have different identities and different politics. These differences do not negate a shared origin. I wrote “Modern social justice politics is a three-legged stool fashioned out of … the French Thought school of postmodernism …” in the sense that 1)Foucault et al wrote a thing, 2)American intellectuals imported and digested it, 3)It was adapted to a challenge to American claims to truth and power rooted in whiteness and maleness, and 4)Took an identity of its own. That’s a far cry from saying French elements are manipulating American movements.

            Only Russia does that. 😉

  8. df1982

    You’re showing your ignorance here, Alon: the origins of identity politics in French “postmodernist” thought are pretty indisputable. The conduit ran through American academics in the 1970s and 80s, who were reading Deleuze and Foucault and then applying their ideas (micropolitics, biopower, minoritarianism, etc.) to the sectoral political issues they were involved in (antiracism, feminism, gay rights). You only need to cursorily dip into Judith Butler to see where her inspiration was mainly coming from, to take one example.

  9. Peter G Furth

    The contention that doing street projects will beget citizen trust is oversimplistic. It is valid only when there is general consensus, among the citizens, that the project is beneficial. That’s fine for building playgrounds or planting trees, but many proposed street projects – bike lanes, bus lanes, road diets – are controversial, because they reduce parking and / or road capacity, thus creating (or at least appearing to create) winners and losers. And in an environment of mistrust, the aggrieved citizens – who always claim to speak for majority (!) – will cite this as just another instance of the government not listening to its citizens and sticking it to them. And their anti-government stand will give them sympathy with many others! They turn the controversy from being (for example) a safer street versus a little more difficulty parking to “government versus the people.” Acting in that kind of environment doesn’t build trust.
    Building trust takes time, listening, compromise, contigency planning. It requires organizing the debate so that the voice of citizens who favor the project can be heard, so that it becomes clear that it isn’t goverment vs. citizens, but citizens versus citizens. Often, the more powerful and vocal citizens in a neighborhood are those wealthy enough to own cars; it can take some effort to get those who care more about good transit, safe street crossings, and safe bicycling to speak up. Then, if the project is done, at least it’s clear that it was done to benefit a legitimate group of citizens – often, a less privileged group of citizens. You don’t have to wait for consensus – that just gives veto power to an intransigent group. But you have to wait till it’s clear that many citizens want this project. Second, listen to objections and respond rationally. Do those who oppose it predict disaster? Then do a pilot trial; make a plan to objectively measure the impacts; promise to reverse the project if the feared distaster materializes. For example, if they predict that the project will divert traffic onto the side streets where your kids play, promise to measure traffic volumes and, if it gets worse, to do some traffic calming.
    Of course, the basic premise that government earns trust by acting on behalf of its citizens is correct. But sometimes it takes time and effort to convince people that a project really is for the citizens’ good. In that sense, it’s right to build trust before streets.

    • Alon Levy

      Road diets are always controversial and drivers hate them and then after a few years they calm down and everyone moves on. In the Netherlands, driver interests sent death threats to politicians who were building bike lanes. And in Paris, all manners of people make up reasons why the road diet measures are bad. You will piss people off, or you will not have government.

      Government-by-pilot doesn’t really work in this context. You can do it for pedestrian plazas, but not for linear corridors for either bikes or surface transit. This is why compulsory purchase exists in the first place – to build a railway, you need a continuous line with limited curvature, so landowners have an incentive to hold out and be the last person to sell, so instead of doing negotiations owner by owner, you pass a takings law. The same is true if you substitute landowners for neighborhood busybodies who feel like they own the public streets. There’s a Metcalfe’s law angle here and if travel is isotropic, which it kind of it by bike, you have to start big – if you start small, the project will fail.

      • michaelrjames

        @Alon: “Road diets are always controversial and drivers hate them …”

        Not just drivers but in many ways a more powerful force in city politics: small, owner-operated retailers. Sadik-Khan relates how these retailers were convinced that reduced parking, street narrowing, bike lane construction etc would reduce their customer traffic. They were convinced that most of their customers arrived by and were dependent on private cars. But essentially instantly such a project was completed, and often this was just a low-grade very fast (overnight) ‘pop-up’ style change, the exact opposite happened: retail traffic increased substantially. One wonders how anyone could believe such contrarian things but one can also understand their fear of change because their commercial survival is often a marginal affair. There is little one can do to gain their trust (really fear and that is a deep non-rational emotion) except to actually show them that their fear was misplaced. I suppose a series of small projects throughout the city might build such trust but it is not clear it works that way. However I would guess there is a smidgin more acceptance and tolerance of such experiments by voters of their city mayor (which makes Di Blasio even more gutless; the path was well prepared for him) and it appears to work that way in Paris with Anne Hidalgo easily re-elected though this “progressive” approach is now 20 years long (!) since Bertrand Delanoë was first elected in 2001 (with Hidalgo as his deputy).

        I believe a significant factor is that these catalysts of change were outsiders (though who had gained some purchase on power inside existing structures) with Delanoë being half-French, half-Tunisian, not to mention being the first openly gay French politician, and Hidalgo being Spanish-French (her father was a anti-Franco resistante/refugee). I’d say Bloomberg fits the same mould in being of neither major party nor a seasoned politician–and he went on to win three terms. In Paris there had been 3 decades of insider control, first by eternal mayor Jacques Chirac then Jean Tiberi. In New York you have deep insiders Cuomo (son of a former governor) and Di Blasio, both do-nothing party machine men. What we see is not trust in anything new but deep long-earned distrust in the usual suspects running the show. It’s why I keep saying that politicians who want change (=progressives) need to be honest about it and reject the discredited incrementalism (“building trust”) approach.

        • Herbert

          How does the mayor of Erlangen put it?

          People are very in favor of climate protection or Verkehrswende (“traffic transition”) in the abstract. But when it’s their neighborhood parking spaces or redensification where they live, they suddenly oppose it

          • michaelrjames

            Yes, Herbert but Alon’s point is that the vast majority of that opposition disappears almost overnight if a project is done properly (and previous consultation, community meetings etc).

          • michaelrjames

            @Herbert: “It does. But it’s still a tough sell to get it done…”

            Well, that’s as it should be. But I think the problem with far too many politicians and especially the faceless men behind the parties, is that, at the slightest pushback, they cave in or endlessly postpone such decisions or action. Not to mention listening too much to lobbyists.

          • michaelrjames

            Speaking of pollies. Amazing results out of Georgia with Warnock (Dem) defeating the execrable Kelly Loeffler, and Ossoff (Dem) leading (by 3,600) Perdue. Biden might be blessed with control of all three branches of government. Then the big question becomes, will he take advantage of it to bring real (difficult) change? It will still be hugely challenging because of plenty of conservative/reactionary Democratic senators and the need for 60 votes (of course changing the Senate and SCOTUS should be top of the agenda).

          • michaelrjames

            It comes down to the dominance of a two-party system. You have to have repellent people or capricious swine in your big party. A multi-party system (and of course you can’t get that without some version of PR like MMP etc) would have its niches for people like Manchin (though of course the voters would have better choices too). The trick is not to disenfranchise such people or their voters (or they just become frustrated and voila, march on and takeover the Capitol building or worse) but where they don’t control outcomes. The very system moderates most of these pseudo-mavericks because they want relevance and some power. Paradoxically they achieve that in big parties by being uncooperative! In Australia we have had close to two decades in which a quite tiny (maybe a dozen) clique of the far-right of the main conservative party hold the party and the nation to ransom over their frothing crazy opposition to climate-change action, same-sex marriage and a few other things (a Republic is another) which polls showed a super-majority of Australians support. This was proven to be true in the case of a referendum on SSM, which was a years-long tortuous process by the conservative leadership to get around their tiny bunch of reactionaries on the issue.

            Of course Manchin is the senator for West Virginia so in all likelihood if he wasn’t so crazed, it would be an actual Republican in his slot.

          • Alon Levy

            In non-two-party systems you still often find a centrist faction. For example, in both Sweden and Finland, there’s a historically agrarian Center Party in coalition with the Social Democrats, the coalition agreements giving the centrists the austerity budgets that they want while keeping out the extreme right, maintaining liberal immigration policy, and having overall center-left budget priorities within strict limits set by the center. In Germany, FDP fulfilled the same role until the 1980s, when it became a right-wing party; we don’t have a replacement party, but I think there is demand for one, especially if Merz wins the primary (which he probably will) and creates conflict with SPD and the Greens (which he may well, even though he is trying to soften his image on immigration). In France, Macron created a grand coalition from scratch – I think it’s best to view the Castex cabinet not as a coherent party but as an unstable coalition between former PS people like Macron himself and Borne and former LR people like Castex and Darmanin.

            The big difference is that the American centrists – Manchin, Collins, Murkowski, maybe Romney, maybe Tester, maybe Sinema – do not use their power like KESK or C and L or Macron or pre-Kohl FDP. They don’t think of themselves as a coherent faction. On the contrary, a lot of them get elected in hostile states by appealing to ancestral partisan roots – Manchin’s campaign website talks about his family’s involvement with JFK back when West Virginia was Democratic, rather than about his moderate policy preferences. So they don’t make concrete demands like “keep the deficit within a limit we set and we’ll back a universal health care bill.” Instead, especially on the Republican side, there’s endless expression of concern, like how the EU and EPP talk whenever Orbán passes an anti-Semitic or homophobic law.

          • michaelrjames

            Of course no system is perfect. In some cases it trends back towards a two-party model with outliers.I’ve noted that phenom over years and years of Merkel. I suppose it’s human nature, wanting a winning team to barrack for … or simple comfort factor. PR and multi-parties at least is a mechanism for diffusing the power. Two-party systems are deliberately designed to do the opposite.

            Macron’s rise was exactly related to this problem with dominant two parties–wherever they exist (and most strongly in the Anglosphere) plenty of voters actually hate it. Thru circumstances and combination of weak leaders, it imploded in France and Macron improbably emerged as the winner. But equally, I’ve said that his happenstance big-tent party can’t last because it just won’t be able to contain the diversity and stresses of politics. But it might get him two terms and relative stability during that period (though I’d predict a second term will see much more unrest amongst parliamentarians).

          • michaelrjames

            From Politico:

            “I’d give our system a grade of B mainly because the party system, which is not in the Constitution, became a two-party system — an effective vehicle for political polarization. This system has also meant that most of the time James Bryce’s 1885 American Commonwealth question: ‘Why in America do the best people not run for president?’ has remained relevant.

            “Trump, who surprised himself and Democrats by winning the presidency, tried ineptly to keep his promises without assessing whether they were worth keeping. He posed as addressing the grievances of his disaffected supporters who didn’t understand that he had no coherent policy and not enough political understanding to succeed. An improved method for screening candidates, and ways to remove the lock the two parties have on elections, would improve the functioning of the system.” — Mary Frances Berry, professor of American social thought and history, University of Pennsylvania

            At least it isn’t written into the constitution which means it has a slightly greater than “less than zero” chance of change …

          • adirondacker12800

            Assuming all 100 Senators are voting, something needs 50 votes to pass with the Vice President breaking the tie. The Senate makes it’s own rules. One of the rules they could decide to change is eliminating the filibuster. And some of the more obscure ones that allow Republicans to block things with one vote.

          • Herbert

            West Virginians will keep Manchin in his seat, because he can give them pork better than a generic freshman Republican could. There was the same deal with the Senator for Timbuktu for decades….

          • adirondacker12800

            Republicans have a designated bi-partisan. One of them shows deep concern, Troubled. Perturbed. Then toes the party line anyway.

          • michaelrjames

            Of course. They need to be seen to address concerns of their mixed voters while at the same time keeping the party line as much as possible. Susan Collins came out with a statement yesterday that was just outrageous in its utter futility. It’s why I’ve said here, that these so-called “moderate” GOPers, not to mention the completely unmoderate Manchin Dem DINO, are worse that regular Republicans. Blathering about tradition and bipartisanship etc while voting in Kavanaugh & Coney Barrett (an extremist) and inert while facilitating McConnell’s perfidy and precedent breaking over Merrick Garland.
            But these types wouldn’t be in the wrong party if you had a diversity of parties that a two-party system makes impossible; and parties would have less problem with expelling such people. It’s only the dumb numbers game that keeps Manchin in the party.

            BTW, I don’t accept any of the arguments put here about political strategies etc keeping them elected. It’s much simpler, about incumbency especially the Senate, and about name recognition and the occasional stunt (‘maverick’ stunt) to keep them in local headlines. I won’t ascribe much in strategic thinking to WV voters …

          • Henry Miller

            @adirondacker12800 I doubt the democrats will eliminate the filibuster, though it is possible. They should still recall that they eliminated it for judges under Obama and then discovered under Trump they didn’t have a filibuster to stop judges they didn’t like.

            Anyone who thinks they will keep both houses in two years is very optimistic. Anything can happen, but it is very common for the president’s party to lose a few seats in the mid term elections. The more of the democrat agenda Biden brings about the more seats he will lose. He has been around long enough to know this, but I’m not sure how he will deal with it.

          • michaelrjames

            @Henry Miller

            But there are lots of exceptional factors. The GOP is in disarray and whether they can regroup (just cosmetically) might partly depend on Trump and Trumpism. In many ways Trump himself has done the party a favour in being so incompetent since losing the election. But Trumpism is looking more resilient than they creep himself and it will continue to rip the party apart. Of course it requires a Democratic party competent enough to exploit it and let’s face it, nope … Oh, and one way they shoot themselves in both feet is worrying too much about the next election. It gives the faceless gurus too much influence, despite the evidence it never helps win elections.
            I wish them luck (because the rest of the world need it) but I remain unconvinced Biden or Harris are the kind of transformative leaders the US desperately needs.

          • adirondacker12800

            Unless you have dozens of parties there will be a spectrum of opinion in most parties. There was an armed insurrection yesterday in Washington D.C. After it was quelled my congresswoman thought it was a good idea to support the fantasies that fueled it. By telling lies about Pennsylvania’s electors, on the floor of the House of Representatives.. I have other things to do than discuss political theory. I missed the email about the noontime protest. I’m going to go in engage in some more letter writing.

          • Herbert

            The centrist party that can be in coalition with both left and right in Germany of 2020 is the Greens. It may not look like that in Berlin, but look at the 2017 coalition talks, or Schleswig Holstein where Habeck rose to prominence or the eminently malleable centrist Kretschmann in BW. The only ray of light out of that state is the extraordinarily competent and pro train minister of transportation. If we get (someone like) him out of black-green on the federal level, it might not be the worst thing ever…

      • Herbert

        Politicians in the Netherlands had a big protest movement with an unrejectable statement (“stop child murder”) to deal with back when bicycle infrastructure was first implemented.

        And there is of course a law of increasing returns: the first bike lane is hard to get through and won’t do all *that* much on its own. But the hundredth one will be easier to implement and will better complement the existing infrastructure

        • Bobson Dugnutt

          @Michaelrjames, Joe Biden and Kamala Harris are not going to be transformational leaders. That’s probably not what voters are looking for in the first place when they voted for them.

          The burden of the Biden/Harris ticket is that they were elected with the biggest of big tents in US history. They won the left, the center and attracted just the right amount of the right to make the difference in swing states to pull them into the blue column (notably Georgia and Arizona). This Biden coalition is ideologically broad, but as far as identity is concerned, the Democrats did as they were expected to do among non-white, non-male and non-Christian voters; Biden may have brought back white Catholics to the Democrats or made them in play in 2020. In contrast, Trump’s share of white Catholics in 2016 mirrored his share of the white vote overall, while Latinx and Filipinx Catholics (US polling might inadvertently count Filipinxs among Latinx Catholics because many retain Spanish surnames despite their racial grouping as Asian/Pacific Islander) voted Democratic mirroring their racial groupings. And notably, the oldest, whitest and most conservative of the wide open field of Democrats won the primaries and the general election.

          However, the only repudiation the GOP suffered was of Trump. They gained seats in the House and are expected to control Congress again in 2022. Republicans actually expanded their dominance of statehouses, and are once again going to dominate the gerrymandering process for another decade. Most of all, Democrats astonishingly underperformed in Senate races. Until Ossoff’s and Warnock’s wins on Tuesday, they had a net gain of 1 Senate seat. They won the seat they were expected to (Colorado), lost a seat they were expected to (Alabama) and had the good fortune of running against a genuinely awful candidate (Arizona). Yet most Republicans who had their backs against the wall and faced genuinely competitive races had won, notably the noxious Lindsey Graham.

          The GOP perceives these election results, much like in the Nixon era, as a management failure and not a moral reckoning. Trump remains by miles the most popular figure in the GOP, and has a literal personality cult. The second-most popular figure in the GOP is “Q”. Yes, a fictitious entity, a meme, is second only to Trump in popularity. A majority of Republicans subscribe to some or all of the Qanon fantasy, and what the Qanon community offers the GOP is popularity among a racially, economically and educationally diverse slice of America. At least two Qanons are now in Congress, and the big threat to us is if the GOP leans into the meme to regain power.

          • Herbert

            If the democrats are smart they lean into the rural-urban split that becomes more pronounced each cycle and ensure that the urban population grows while the rural population declines.

            In other words: massive investment in housing and public transit while zeroing out new highways

          • michaelrjames

            [this was misposted elsewhere]
            Yes. I’m not trying to be smart but we know all that.
            The key thing is that Trump won’t be a candidate in 2022 or 2024 (he’ll continue to pretend he’ll run in ’24 because he wants the attention and the money but he won’t ever run for office again). So the question becomes whether there will still be a Trump effect on GOP candidates, say in 2022. Maybe (well, it’s a question of size) but if there is then the GOP will still be tearing itself apart. So, more Georgias. There is the qualification about lazy Dem voters, and more broadly whether the Dems are up to the job of stopping this swing to the far right. BAU or fiddling around the edges (of inequality etc), inaction on tech monopolies or Wall Street won’t do it.

            Re other demographic factors (@Herbert), the urban->suburban->exurban/quasi-rural, that incursion of more urban sensibilities and the more liberal voting patterns is a broad societal thing wrapped up in education & the type of jobs etc. There is no real need for the Dems to do much as it is going to happen/is happening anyway. The bigger and more important groups they must be careful not to turn off, and which they must try to energise to actually vote are the hispanics (of most types but as I’ve said before, forget about the Cubans because it just compromises one’s messages so you don’t appeal to either or any) and the other ethnic groups like Asian-Pacific. And the young who are more progressive and have little patience for more softshoe b.s. Sometimes the Dems seem alternately complacent or patronising re these groups.

            But the diversity of Biden’s cabinet and of the Dems in general should be a very strong message by itself.

          • Eric2

            The only “investment” in housing you need is upzoning, without upzoning all other investment is worthless.

            But upzoning is not yet mainstream Democratic policy

          • adirondacker12800

            The key thing is that Trump won’t be a candidate in 2022 or 2024
            No he won’t. You can’t file the paperwork, nor are you eligible, if you are in prison.
            Or dead. The man is quite old and not in the best of health.

          • Herbert

            Transit needs federal dollars. And getting costs under control would need federal competence, but I doubt we’ll see that… Even if Mayo Pete allegedly speaks foreign languages…

          • Bobson Dugnutt

            @Herbert, transit needs federal dollars for capital acquisitions. Once the feds become on the hook for operating costs, the FTA effectively becomes the bargaining agent of management. The goal of transport unions will be to impose a model contract nationwide. Every transit system may get a San Francisco or big East Coast city contract imposed upon them.
            A GOP administration, conversely, may try to Thatcherize transport and force all functions out to private tendering. So nationally you’d get something like Foothill Transit in suburban LA, in which anything requiring a paycheck is provided by a private contractor.

    • Eric2

      I don’t think there is such a thing as “trust” in this context. Trust, if it existed, would be gained in one project and remain for the next project. But when it comes to infrastructure improvements, this does not happen. Just because the mayor executed a good project for you last year does not mean you are going to accept a bad project this year. For example: just because the mayor remodeled the playground last year does not mean a car owner will accept a road diet this year. The car owner “knows” that road diets are bad, so he opposes them. It would be nice if he changed his mind. But if he persists in his opposition to road diets, it’s insulting his intelligence to suggest that he should accept a change that will make the city worse, just because you gave him some goodies the year before.

  10. Matt

    Teacher salaries ARE much higher in “wealthy left-wing cities.” It’s just that the cost of living is higher still. The New York City public schools pay scale tops out at about $90,000 per year with only 8 years experience, plus health and retirement benefits even big corporations don’t provide anymore.

    • michaelrjames


      Yes, it was the cause of those strikes in West Virginia and Oklahoma, and spreading across red states:
      Oklahoma isn’t working. Can anyone fix this failing American state?
      Poverty, police abuse, record prison rates and education cuts that mean a four-day school week. Why are public services failing Oklahomans?
      Russell Cobb, 29 August 2017

      A teacher panhandles on a roadside to buy supplies for her third-grade classroom. Entire school districts resort to four-day school weeks. Nearly one in four children struggle with hunger.
      It may be hard to believe, but entry-level employees with a high school diploma at the popular convenience store QuikTrip make more than teachers in Oklahoma. For four years running, the state has led the nation in tax cuts to education, outpacing second-place Alabama by double digits. Years of tax cuts and budget shortfalls mean that Oklahoma has fallen to 49th in teacher pay. Spending per pupil has dropped by 26.9% since 2008.
      As teachers there and in other states protest for higher wages, this quote, from a career public servant, really stands out: “I was surprised to realize along the way I was no longer middle class.” Earlier this month, Oklahoma’s Republican governor approved the state’s first tax increase in 28 years in order to raise teachers’ pay. Later this week, Arizona teachers plan to walk out for more education funding.

    • Alon Levy

      New York pays teachers a little bit less than Berlin does (link); average salaries in metro New York are about 50% higher than they are in Berlin. $90,000 with this much experience for a job requiring an advanced degree is not a lot in New York, people in consulting or tech or w/e get way more.

  11. Pingback: News roundup: about right – Seattle Transit Blog
    • Alon Levy

      It’s a game of telephone. It goes roughly like this:

      1. The Eno study has decently complete coverage of subways in North America and Europe, but its light rail coverage is incomplete here, focusing mainly on high-cost Paris, and therefore lowballs the Europe-US cost difference for urban rail without tunnels, only finding a ~50% US premium.
      2. Because of definitions of light and heavy rail working differently in different cities and countries (VAL, etc.), this transforms into a smaller premium for projects that are called light rail.
      3. The Eno study announces in a conclusion that there isn’t much of a US premium outside New York.
      4. In interviews, the PI says that there is no US premium outside New York.

  12. Pingback: 2:00PM Water Cooler 1/07/2021 | naked capitalism
  13. Pingback: The Week Observed, January 8, 2021 | City Observatory
  14. michaelrjames

    Yes. I’m not trying to be smart but we know all that.
    The key thing is that Trump won’t be a candidate in 2022 or 2024 (he’ll continue to pretend he’ll run in ’24 because he wants the attention and the money but he won’t ever run for office again). So the question becomes whether there will still be a Trump effect on GOP candidates, say in 2022. Maybe (well, it’s a question of size) but if there is then the GOP will still be tearing itself apart. So, more Georgias. There is the qualification about lazy Dem voters, and more broadly whether the Dems are up to the job of stopping this swing to the far right. BAU or fiddling around the edges (of inequality etc), inaction on tech monopolies or Wall Street won’t do it.

    Re other demographic factors (@Herbert), the urban->suburban->exurban/quasi-rural, that incursion of more urban sensibilities and the more liberal voting patterns is a broad societal thing wrapped up in education & the type of jobs etc. There is no real need for the Dems to do much as it is going to happen/is happening anyway. The bigger and more important groups they must be careful not to turn off, and which they must try to energise to actually vote are the hispanics (of most types but as I’ve said before, forget about the Cubans because it just compromises one’s messages so you don’t appeal to either or any) and the other ethnic groups like Asian-Pacific. And the young who are more progressive and have little patience for more softshoe b.s. Sometimes the Dems seem alternately complacent or patronising re these groups.

    But the diversity of Biden’s cabinet and of the Dems in general should be a very strong message by itself.

    • Herbert

      Urbanization doesn’t happen “on itself”. Not while the whole system is set up anti urban. Polls now have one variable which predicts political outcome for the Repubs, namely “white evangelical Christian”. I’m pretty sure if polls did poll it, “frequent user of public transit” would poll overwhelmingly democrat. And this demographic may have grown in the last few years, but it’s also seen setbacks. So the dems must make sure to grow it. And how do you do that? Easy: build more transit and more tod

      • Bobson Dugnutt

        @Herbert, “frequent user of public transit” would fall under the “does not vote” category outside of New York City. Political scientists have established that political participation tracks closely with education and income, and this is true of all democracies (excepting Australia and others that make voting compulsory).

        • michaelrjames

          “Urbanization doesn’t happen “on itself”.”

          It kinda does. At least in some ways, and I am led to understand by the demographers and pollsters that in big cities the phenomenon is affecting the inner ring of outer suburbs, ie. they are ineluctably turning purple. Yes, turning into radical socialists–you know, desiring good education and healthcare etc that is increasingly marginal unless you are seriously rich. It’s spreading out from the centre, like a corona plague! And it’s happening ‘naturally’. Just look at northern Virginia–a commuter belt for DC etc–and it’s all purple if not blue.

          The thing is that the Republicans are losing the ability to win elections, in a mathematical demographic sense. It’s been the trend for a long time and Trump was the last throw at grabbing most of the diminishing “white male non-college educated”–that pot is now empty. Without all their dirty tricks the GOP can’t win in a fair election. It’s taken the Dems a stupid amount of time to realise they needed to fight back strongly–against disenfranchisement, gerrymandering etc–not to mention locking in natural constituents such as most Hispanics and the young. (And as I keep saying, with simple message/policy instead of contortions trying to appeal to both Cuban and the rest (majority) of Hispanics. Ditto the young which is doubtful this gerontocracy is capable of. Pelosi* is going to stay this whole 4 years!)

          The funny thing is that it is the GOP who might consider alternatives to the two-party system because they are going to be divided into two parties themselves because of Trumpism, and it will mean permanent opposition unless they fix it (and even without it, they then need to overcome these demographic factors). It’s why they have been so extreme the past two decades.

          Adirondacker agrees with me that Trump won’t run again but not for the same reasons. His presidency was accidental and he didn’t enjoy it (cos it isn’t untrammeled personal power like he wanted) and further he doesn’t want to risk losing again. Plus I believe this time the GOP wouldn’t allow it, so 3rd party candidacy and inevitable loss etc. Yes, he’s getting older and not in perfect health but actually I’d say he is in not so bad shape and has good genes (doesn’t drink or smoke; Fred lived to 93y). NY might try to put him in jail but he’s rich enough (or with enough supporters) that his lawyers will stretch it out forever. In most ways it is the same drama he has had most of his life and it could help keep him in the news. Biden might even consider a pardon if only to get him out of the news, and a distraction the nation doesn’t need (OTOH it will keep the GOP crippled …).
          *Schumer is not that old but he’s in the same category as Pelosi. With respect to the topic of Alon’s piece, it is interesting to read Sadik-Khan in Street Fight, how in the seminal battle over bike lanes he was on the wrong side. At least his wife, Iris Weinshall former city transport commissioner. The Schumers lived in an apartment right on the street overlooking the park.

          Waking in about halfway through the meeting was my predecessor as commissioner, Iris Weinshall. She took a seat a few rows behind the rest of the crowd. Her name had appeared in news reports as an ardent opponent of the bike lane. Just weeks earlier, Weinshall had cosigned a letter to The New York Times. “When new bike lanes force the same volume of cars and trucks into fewer and narrower traffic lanes, the potential for accidents between cars, trucks and pedestrians goes up rather than dow,” she wrote. “At Prospect Park West in Brooklyn … our eyewitness reports show collisions of one sort ofr another to be on pace to be triple the former annual rates.”

          The street was a disaster with unruly traffic (and uncoordinated traffic lights meaning stop-start traffic with many cars racing between lights its entire length), 5 lanes wide (3 traffic lanes) which made it dangerous for pedestrians. All of which disappeared when they built a two-way bike lane on the parkside with a separation from the car parking lane, reducing traffic to two lanes but with coordinated traffic lights the traffic actually flowed better than before. Combined with a pedestrian island in the centre, pedestrian safety greatly improved and improved access to the park. Crashes dropped 63 percent. After the changes polling showed most local residents supported the changes.
          I think the stubbornness of Pelosi and the rest of the gerontocracy against the progressives is of the same nature. They just don’t get it, believe in their own wisdom of experience and age, and often oppose just as simple power dynamics. Power rarely yields and needs pushing out, so that is another challenge the Dems are going to have.

          • adirondacker12800

            His presidency was accidental
            It was carefully crafted. It wasn’t very well coordinated but the Dixiecrats pushed all the buttons. They were pushing them on Wednesday when they attempted an armed insurrection.

          • Herbert

            The population of many cities in the west didn’t grow during the high tide of “cat friendly urban planning”.

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  16. Richard

    I read the Israel Covid example twice, and I still can’t parse how it’s related to Trust before Streets. I guess it would help if I knew anything about Israeli politics to start with. Regardless, I think the American social justice stance of “safe streets are racist” is predictably insane. Good comment thread.

  17. RossB

    I’m late to the party here, but let me just say I completely agree. The most important thing is that you do what will work. If there is a project that is crap, it won’t matter if you originally got buy-in from the community. Likewise, a project that seems like a crazy idea will be enthusiastically approved if it works.

    Consider the response to the Dust Bowl, in the early part of the Great Depression. I can’t emphasize enough how radical the response was. Agriculture and civilization go together. In human history, farmers were “paid” various ways: subsistence farming, a free market, slaves, servants to the king (or the state in some form or another). But not once, so far as I know, were they paid *not* to farm. This is a radical concept to sell to a group of people that are generally libertarian. To be fair, it was only possible because the economy collapsed, and this normally libertarian group supported Roosevelt. But I’m sure it still a very hard sell, and nothing like what the farmers would suggest or support at a modern focus group. The Roosevelt administration looked at the science and were focused on making sure it worked, not on whether the locals thought it was a great idea. It did work, of course, and (for a while anyway) lead to major shift to the left for a large part of the population, and the country as a whole (which in turn lead to the creation of the greatest middle class the world has ever known).

    In contrast, I can think of something closer to home that really didn’t work at all, despite strong input from the community. The line in orange on this map is the First Hill Streetcar, in Seattle: Notice how it makes a considerable button hook in the middle. This is an extremely slow section of a slow streetcar. You can get off at one stop, walk a couple blocks, stretch, and pick up the exact same streetcar if you want. Part of the problem is the nature of the streetcar itself (it is avoiding Yesler, because Yesler is a steep street). But another problem is that the button hook itself was added because people in the neighborhood wanted it to serve 15th. The point is, years later, very few people know why the button hook exists — they just know they hate it. It makes travel from Jackson up to Broadway extremely slow, and people will just walk, or catch a bus instead. There aren’t huge numbers of riders in that section either — it just seems like a needless detour.

    Build what works. It won’t matter in the future whether people thought it was a good idea at the time or not — you will be judged on whether it does.

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