Weaponizing Walking

In many older shows, there is a classic suburban set up with sidewalks and houses and lawns where the star couple live. Suburbs harken back to a simpler time in the minds of the dominant narrative when things like that nuclear family were considered normal. Those images failed to discuss the reality that segregation made that lifestyle possible. One of the problems with increasing sidewalks and protected bike lanes is that many people like bike lanes and sidewalks. Thus, according to the theory of “supply and demand,” scarcity creates a premium. In Texas, the culture has defaulted to the automobile for traversing the landscape. If the automobile is the default, then by definition, there are fewer places with protected bike lanes and sidewalks. Whenever any area gets excited about the possibility of trails, sidewalks and bike lanes, they fail to understand that the more desirable, a location is, the more expensive it becomes.

Unfortunately, there is a shortsightedness in planning related to the mindset of “I deserve to have what I want,” without considering that it might cost somebody something. Consequently, the working poor are seen as bad people for understanding that the addition of desirable traits will raise their cost of living. Those in power feel confident in deriding the working poor as people who fail to understand “how progress works,” or purveyors of ill will who just want to perpetuate the status quo. Anybody in the past who has been concerned about the effects that change have on a community—or community demographics—has been seen as someone without enough vision. City officials then decide that “those people” are not trained enough to understand “how progress works.” Many feel entitled to ignore and disengage with “those people,” rolling their eyes, and mocking them for raising the issues.

The biggest problem is that pedestrianism and cycling are consistently depicted as part of White lifestyle, even though those activities were not invented in the United States. Walking long distances and enjoying the terrain is a universal concept, especially because all people are excited when their kids learn to walk, if able. To believe that only White people enjoy pedestrianism—or are the only people who have the vision to include sidewalks, trails, and bike lanes—is to deny the fact that there are people who are not considered White who are doing these things all over the world. However, many of the components of planning are isolated so that nobody understands that everything is connected, and many people believe that sidewalks are not part of urban planning.

Pedestrianism and cycling should be seen as components of existence, and to reach that culture, society needs to ask two questions. First, how would it look if everybody in a community is seen as worthy of remaining in that community, whether or not they have the luxury of capturing attention? Then, how can a community be reshaped so that everyone gets to stay? If people assume that everybody has the option of cycling and using the sidewalk, then that is what a community should be, and property value should not rise or fall based on a universal understanding. One strategy might be to make the “walking score” proprietary and or invisible. If people understand the presence of sidewalks and bike lanes as standards, there should be no competition between which areas are more walkable than others. Second of all, when people review developers’ projects that include sidewalk development, the city needs to ask them what they intend to charge before offering a tax incentive. There is no reason to seek people who are going to raise the cost of living and ostracize the majority of the population.

If there are more than enough vacant houses for every homeless person, the problem is not that there are no homes; “supply and demand” is a ridiculous description of why there are homeless people. The true issue is that people with excessive capital simply refuse to take less for building. Smaller builders who do not need to form multimillion dollar projects are not getting attention because too many cities are obsessing over large developers who need to wipe out entire zip codes just to attain their “visions.” If a builder is not going to build a walkable, affordable neighborhood, why should a city be looking for that particular builder? Even though sidewalks are part of cities and towns, people like to pretend such infrastructure is a luxury that only belongs in places where people want to see the inhabitants in public. If people are expected to reduce driving to combat climate change, then by definition, there should be more people using alternative modes of transportation. Sadly, there is an assumption that someone gets to decide that certain people are worth being out in public, while “those people” are not; such thinking is part of why the nation is becoming more and more segregated. Walking and cycling are not hobbies that only the wealthy get to enjoy, but how people traverse the landscape if they lack a car—or in some cases, sidewalks are places where wheelchairs and walkers are used. That means that there are all kinds of people on sidewalks, and the bike lanes are also including alternative electric mobility aids.

In this era, it is becoming more critical that people recognize that as neighborhoods are changed, somebody is going to have to pay a cost. The citizens of East Austin were very excited about the Holly Power Plant being closed until they realized that only luxury development was taking over 78702. The residents were shoved out because the city decided that it wanted more White people living in East Austin, ignoring its already small Black and brown populations. People were excited about Eastside Memorial getting renovated, but saddened when they realized that the school needed to be closed. It was called “progress” to knock down one of the few Chicano universities in the country. It was called “progress” to knock down an African-American firehouse. Essentially, it has been called “progress” to destroy any public space that is not luxury or White in the city of Austin. Fixing things up for a predominantly White population is why Black and brown people are decidedly cynical about any purported improvements to the community. It is not confusing as to why people are “against sidewalks and bike lanes” when the city has repeatedly demonstrated that it wants only White people living within it. The city is responsible for changing its approach to promoting pedestrianism and the ability to cycle, even though many people remain abusively condescending to anybody who says otherwise. It is the fault of the city that Black and brown people do not trust it for the way many historical buildings and communities were devalued and destroyed. No amount of gaslighting East Austin is going to make any other narrative true. It is only fair that the non-White population be assured that the addition of bike lanes and sidewalks does not mean a potential move.

Leave a Reply

%d bloggers like this: