Transit and a Sense of Community

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From Conservatives and Mass Transit: Is it Time for a New Look? by Paul M. Weyrich and William S. Lind:

“Cultural conservatives have yet another reason to be interested in mass transit: its role in helping foster a sense of community.

Community is of significant value to most cultural conservatives, for very good reason. Without it, there are few mechanisms to uphold morals and maintain standards of behavior. Traditionally, when most people were part of a community, they behaved for fear of community sanctions. But where there is no community, community sanctions cannot exist. If you do not know your neighbor, why should he care if you disapprove of his misbehavior?

Historically, transit helped foster community, just as the automobile helps undermine it. The reason is that when most people took transit, they normally walked from their homes to the bus or streetcar stop. Other people from the neighborhood were doing the same, and as they walked and at the car stop they met face to face. Since commuters tend to be creatures of habit they saw many of the same people each day. They met, talked, and got to know each other. They found a shared interest in the well-being of the neighborhood. Transit itself was part of that well-being; people had a common interest in seeing that it offered good service. Often, shops and maybe a bar or cafe opened near the stop, and a mini-community developed around it. All these influences helped a neighborhood become a community.

In contrast, the automobile works to isolate neighbors. Today, the average commuter gets in his car in his garage, turns on the heat or air conditioning and radio, hits the bar on the garage door opener and sallies forth. He does not see any neighbors; at most he sees their cars. There is no meeting, no communication. Each driver is isolated in his car, which does nothing to build a sense of community. Indeed, it works against it.”


4 thoughts on “Transit and a Sense of Community

    Quimbob said:
    August 17, 2009 at 9:28 am

    Over at Pat Buchanan’s American Conservative the discussion of (re)building communities & localism (including locavorism) has been coming up a lot recently.
    The view over there is more paleoconservative, though & Cincinnati’s right wing is much more neoconservative.
    Anyway, Weyrich is right in the snippet you posted. Getting out of the automobile also introduces one to the neighborhood he works in. Look at all the people who work in the downtown area who would never set foot outside of the parking lot for fear of their lives.

    Jon W said:
    August 17, 2009 at 3:26 pm

    Its a tough argument to sell. Conservatives idea of a good neighborhood is a cul-de-sac in the suburbs with manicured lawns. They’re view of the city is negative from the start based on probably their unconscience prejudices and feeling toward “urban” people ie hipsters, minorities, liberals. They like the “freedom” of using a car which trumps the sense of community arguement. They accept the traffic and sprawl that comes with autocentric land uses partly because thats all they know (staus quo= conservative), and because, again, they like the freedom to get in their car and go where they please. I know, the freedom thing sounds corny, but I believe that just how those folks perspective on things is. Also, good point about the neoconservatives. Since the Bush Administration, all Republicans are in line with neoconservative values it seems. Unless they were on the Ron Paul train.

    citykin said:
    August 17, 2009 at 7:45 pm

    There are different kinds of community, intentional and accidental. Some people avoid the accidental at all costs. Of course that is there prerogative, but sometimes leads to demonization of the “other” who we only see on TV or thru our windsheild.

    Accidental daily contacts make for a healthier city IMO. But I agree this may all be a bit to heady for a something as political as this charter amendment.

    There is a simple point to be made though about knowing your neighbor being good and living amongst strangers being bad.

    Also, think about the openness of the modern streetcar. The wide open, sidewalk level entry, the wide windows on the street. Much better at making connections with your surroundings than a subway and better at meeting your neighbor than cars. I also really like how it puts people with wheelchairs and walkers into the same mobility system as people with strollers and shopping carts.

    Love the quote BTW.

    JA said:
    August 18, 2009 at 3:26 pm

    To Jon W – you are painting with an awfully broad brush there. I am a conservative libertarian and I live in the city, support the street car and loathe the idea of living in the neighborhood you describe. I also know plenty of folks who share my beliefs that would also call themselves at least somewhat conservative. I apologize for the mini rant but I am tired of reading things on this and other city-centric blogs that read as though all conservatives hate the city, because it is simply not true. Perhaps you have been listening to too much 700wlw and it has distorted your opinion.

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