“All Infrastructure — and No People”

Yesterday, as I was scrolling through the Streetsblog Network feed, I came upon this headline from network member Sprawled Out: "We Americans are all infrastructure — and no people."

I clicked through right away, because that line had so much resonance for me.

The post turned out to be a link to a story from the Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel
by Richard L. Birch. He’s a business writer who lives in Milwaukee but
also has an apartment in Almería, Spain, where his wife’s family is
from.

Here’s what he writes about re-entry into his native country:

6a00d8341d0baf53ef0120a66674bb970b_800wi.jpgPhoto: Sprawled Out

Arriving home from Spain, we drove through Milwaukee from Mitchell
International Airport, and the eerie calm of sealing ourselves behind
car windows settled over us; the "carness" of our life here spread out
like a gray pall all around us.

Instead
of people, conversation, shopping, eating and attending to business on
the hoof, we were surrounded by access roads, parking lots, highways
and bridges until we eventually passed under the shadow of the hulking
three-story garage whose gloomy, and empty, cavern overshadows our
magnificent art museum.

We Americans are all infrastructure — and no people…

What’s
the cost for living our American way? It’s not just the thousands of
dollars for the second car, insurance and gas. We also have to support
a lake of concrete around us — and gas, electric and sewer lines to
stretch out past the near-vacant belts beyond the older suburbs.
Property taxes in Almería on our condo are one-twelfth our taxes in
Milwaukee, even though the value of the two homes is roughly the same.

One-twelfth. Oh, and they throw in free health insurance.

It’s a powerful piece of writing. Click through yourself to read it all.

Is there hope that momentum is shifting away from this kind of lonely landscape? Over at NRDC Switchboard, Kaid Benfield writes about a new report
from PriceWaterhouseCoopers and the Urban Land Institute on the
prospects for the real estate market in the United States. The report,
Benfield writes, projects a gloomy future for the kind of sprawling
development that Birch drove through after landing in Milwaukee.

Benfield writes:

In a section titled "markets to watch," the report also advises
investors to favor convenient urban office, retail,
entertainment and recreation districts where there are mass transit
alternatives to driving. Investors are advised to shy away from, among
other things, fringe areas "with long car com­mutes or where getting a
quart of milk means taking a 15-minute drive."

Related: a post from brand-new network member American Dirt on spreading brownfields and shuttered gas stations (h/t to The Urbanophile‘s Aaron Renn).

ALSO ON STREETSBLOG

Standing Up to Sit-Lie

|
Hippies and punks have been sitting on Haight Street for almost a half century. Will they soon be criminals? (Photo: Greg Gaar Collection, via http://foundsf.org) As San Francisco moves closer to a decision on a new sit-lie ordinance that proponents say would facilitate the SFPD’s clearing of unsavory elements off of sidewalks in neighborhoods like […]

San Jose Sets Out to Build the Bay Area’s Most Bike-Friendly Downtown

|
San Jose — which wants its central district to become the urban center of Silicon Valley — hopes to build the Bay Area’s most bike-friendly downtown, where pedaling to work, school or the farmers market is “safe, convenient and commonplace” for people of all ages. The vision includes Long Beach-inspired bicycle-friendly business districts, where merchants would […]

A Potential Stimulus Horror Story from Franklin, Wisconsin

|
Some disturbing news about stimulus spending on roads comes to us from Streetsblog Network member blog Sprawled Out, which covers the city of Franklin, WI. In that Milwaukee suburb, according to Sprawled Out’s John Michlig, local bureaucrats are potentially on track to use stimulus funds to widen a local street in a particularly destructive way: […]

Transit-Oriented America, Part 1: Eight Thousand Miles

|
My wife and I were married last month in Brooklyn. For our honeymoon, we wanted to see as many great American cities as we could. In 19 days of travel, we visited Chicago, Seattle, Portland (Ore.), San Francisco, Los Angeles and New Orleans (and also stopped briefly in Cleveland, Milwaukee, Minneapolis, Houston, Atlanta, Washington, Baltimore and Philadelphia). How could two people as obsessed as […]