Decades ago the Lovin Spoonful sang of the allure of summer in the city. An overwhelming majority of Americans now live in metropolitan clusters. The newest of these are largely in the south and west and they especially are facing daunting challenges as they mimic the density of their eastern brethren.
I have lived most of my life here in Los Angeles, watching it explode in size geographically at first and all the while in the size of our population. I watched a proud city launch the freeways that broke us free to climb into Detroit’s behemoths and go where we wanted when we wanted. The resulting suburban sprawl was celebrated for giving the average person a house and yard to raise a family in.
But we have pretty much run out of land here and yet there are more and more of us every day. More of us, for one reason or another, crowd into places convenient first to a freeway and increasingly near a stop in the area’s mass transit lines. While some would hold back reality by trying to stop or slow development, others say it is time to get serious about mass transit.
I am unapologetically a fan of mass transit and have been since as a boy of 7 I rode alone around Milwaukee by bus and streetcar. Increasingly, residents in this megalopolis favor spending money on mass transit of various types, and a ballot proposal may test that sentiment this fall. But in large part we still expect someone else to be the one who leaves their car at home and takes a bus or train to work.
In many cases here, that is because our mass transit system has yet to reach a critical mass of service to enough places in a timely fashion. But to a large extent it is also a function of viewing mass transit as beneath one’s place in life. That has to change. We need to invest in our transit infrastructure the way we invest in cosmetic products. The way we lavish money on electronic gadgets and devices.
There are many major cities facing similar decisions. Taxpayers have to be willing to add to their current burden in order to provide for a future capable of handling the increasing population. The federal government needs to recognize the opportunity to build a stronger infrastructure, build confidence in government, and provide jobs and build the economy.
We need to reduce as quickly as possible our investment in Iraq, trim from our budgets much of what is spent on earmarks, eliminate most subsidies to corporate agriculture, war industries and expenditures that do not aim at building America’s people and common wealth.
There is much that will reach out for funding – research and development, health care, and a long list of worthwhile investments. Our transit infrastructure, from the busses, streetcars and subways of Los Angeles to reviving Amtrak as a high speed network between population centers, needs money now.