Population versus Transit

Buses? We don’t need no stinking buses.

When looking at modern urban planning/growth/development/etc, we always look to history to see moments where things worked or didn’t, because building on such a large scale costs millions, effects thousands, and more importantly generates the cities identity for decades to come. It’s very common for cities to go “all in” on one export or another. You do what is available to you regionally. History will show you how cities often boom right when their hedged bet becomes popular. But look at what happens when your export no longer becomes the flavor of choice. Pittsburgh hit the height of its glory when trains were all the rage and steel tracks were needed across the US. Detroit then took all their swagger after the war when everyone saw the infinite possibility of cars. In the past 20 years you’ve had a second “wagon’s west” movement as young pioneers are swaying out there headed for technological gold. History hasn’t been so kind for the first two, and we will see how the West Coast cities fare in the coming years, but I am noticing something quite unique amongst major metropolis, the big guys like NYC, Philly, Chicago, Atlanta, etc. They aren’t remotely unique.

Now before you kill the writer, allow me to explain. The more successful, sustainable cities are, the more likely they also don’t “hedge their bets”. Besides the obvious differences (landmarks, regional culture, civic pride), each of these cities has a very similar yet equally diverse level of investment in the arts, public transportation, housing, public safety, wellness, and infrastructure. In other words, they are all well designed.

Now the population versus transportation debate is always one of chicken or the egg. One begets the other thus requiring expansion on the other etc etc. When I started plotting this graph, I simply wanted to see where it goes. Truth be told, there is too much information on here. For some inane reason I started by plotting the population of Cincinnati versus NYC and Philly, thinking that was fair. So then I moved into something slightly more midwest like Chicago. Really not fair. So then I brought in cities that Cincy is always or at least lately has been compared too (Pittsburgh and Portland), and one rather unique one that it hasn’t, San Francisco After a while I simply just started making something pretty. This notion deserves to be interactive piece,  as trying to mark noted transportation points in history for Cincinnati, et al, is slightly more difficult than you’d expect.

You see, transit histories in other cites are fairly set in stone. There was a decision when to build something, how long it took, when it opened etc. That’s because for the most part these cities were born, and refused to abandon rails. For the most part, anyways. When the nation got bus crazy, yes, they abandoned streetcars for something that was seen as cheaper, dependent on gas (which was cheap and widely available) and wasn’t “restricted.” All of these reasons are coming back to bite said cities in the ass as maintenance and gas prices soar. And as it turns out, restrictions are good for a city design (see bike routes, parking lanes, crosswalks, etc all). There are rules, very clear ones, that help cities flourish when it comes to infrastructure. Cincy though, really went “all in” with cars.  They saw their population increasing on a fairly steady pace, saw a need for transportation expansion, and made a reactionary choice to invest in buses because that is what every other city was doing. Buses, however, are the urban development equivalent of an impulse buy. Cars really allowed Cincinnatians to flee though. Who wouldn’t? The luscious untouched winding hills and countryside was a pleasant literal and figurative breath of fresh air.

A graphic like this needs to be more open source, which is why I’m just sort of dumping it here, and if it picks up partners, fantastic. There is simply too much information and I was trying to do too much in too short of time. It glosses over a lot of things, and goes into too much detail on others. What you can take away is the American dependance on cars, and just how much damage the 1950’s propaganda driven  lifestyle really, really, really did to us as a culture. Rails in a city, work very much like fencing for cattle. They allow you to roam about in a controlled space, thus keeping the damage to a specific area. But when America really got too big for it’s britches, and “single-handedly ended Europe the World’s little scuffle,” the mentality changed. We no longer wanted to be controlled, or to have to deal with set times, and set places. We wanted freedom. Hell, we gave it to everyone else, why shouldn’t we have it for ourselves? Enter mass marketing, commercialism, and the American promise of the old white picket fence, 2 and a half kids and dog. Want versus need.

It is so hard to pinpoint one err, there really isn’t one per say. Competition amongst the gothams, the depression (which is apparently the best form of contraception by the way), ensuing spending spree afterwards. I guess its really just progress in general, and city life. No one stopped to question anything they simply just reacted. Here is to hoping we learned a thing or two.

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