Kris and I flew back from a week in the Dominican Republic last week. Monday evening we returned from Philly and Lancaster, Pa, where a I had the weekend Infectious Diseases gig. We had no way to get to these places except by aircraft; this wonderful technology is central to our way of life. But the present isn’t good enough for some; they want to annoy us with a romantic history, as they would like to remember it.
Resuscitating the abandoned past, a representative from a group advocating a nationwide rail network appeared at our last very busy and time crimped commission meeting. “When we get passenger railroads to go 110 MPH, this mode of travel will become profitable and it will be practical to go coast to coast.” or such like. The blather went on for at least 10 minutes, driven mainly by our mayor, a trained civil engineer born in Roanoke, Va, a major but now sadly fallen rail hub and who had apparently helped design railroad tracks in the past.
I had nearly consigned this political theater to oblivion. Then this article appeared in the Sunday NYT. The newest fad in the urban planning racket is regional hubs and lines of communications among major cities and their surroundings with high speed passenger railroads and internet cables allowing them to form coherent productive units! There are seven such natural groupings in the USA, some even extending into Canada. We here in the upper Midwest are linked with Chicago, Detroit and places further west. How innovative! Grand Rapids linked to growth nodes like Detroit and Chicago! Workers can stay in their backward small city homes and travel to jobs in the far off big city! And it took a thinker from a university in Singapore to figure this out!
The reason why I dwell on this fluff is the hope that this hub and networking fad will displace the current New Urbanism /cool cities/smart growth craze that inserts these planners into Kentwood. Here they insist on spending our money on sidewalks to nowhere, building houses that are handicap inaccessible and creating a mind numbing sameness of the architecture to our city.
The newest scam wants to involve state governors and national politicians in the planning process and that’s just fine with me. They can hold conferences and commission studies to build railroads in the world when self driving cars promise to be faster, safer and more agile, and glass fiber connections in a world in WiFi is already king and in which 5G networks smoke the opposition. The passenger railroads and fiber optic hoses are so dowdy that they will never be funded even by big league out of touch politicians. And local plans to reconfigure cities along ideological schemes (Imagine crowding young bright people into closely packed housing along streetcar lines reminiscent of a hundred years ago with epidemic tuberculosis and where the Spanish flu killed 500,000 Americans in 3 weeks.) will thrown into chaos when word comes down that folks should stay where they want to be. Hopefully the planners will be distracted enough so that we no longer have to tolerate their interfering with normal market evolution.