Jarrett Walker has an interesting and useful piece (already linked in a recent News Roundup) suggesting that anti-urban, anti-transit attitudes are often related to fundamental human characteristics that we should sympathize with – because we all share them. He highlights loss aversion, comfort with known procedures, and the desire to secure our homes. If you all don’t mind a personal story, I can add a bit to Walker’s point.
In the mid-1990’s, I had an ex-pat assignment in Amsterdam, and lived there with my family including school-age kids. This exposure showed me the value of a very livable “real” city, not least because my 12-year old was incredibly independent, largely as a result of excellent transit. Yet when we moved from Amsterdam to the Seattle area. we settled in low-density Mercer Island, hardly a city and a place with only mediocre transit service, even then.
Why would we have done such a thing? Because, like many parents, we took school quality to be the most important criterion. Affluent suburbs such as Mercer Island and Bellevue were – and perhaps still are – a safer choice for navigating kids through public schools, and metrics such test scores were more favorable there. Whether those metrics are “fair” or not becomes less important when making choices for your kids. Many parents have made the other choice – to live in Seattle and similar cities – and I’m sure their kids have done fine, but it was certainly a reasonable consideration, and one that still strongly influences many parents today.
I’d guess that parents’ concern for their kids’ security and environment has much to do with the backlash against HALA’s proposals. Some of the same folks who are strongly for bike- and walk- friendly neighborhoods also are unhappy about the possibility of denser development in their neighborhoods – and both motivated by parental concern.
Many expressions of those concerns are misguided, in my opinion. But the details are not easy, and dismissive arguments will only harden positions.
One final observation about Amsterdam: in the Netherlands, publicly-financed elementary and high-school education is an interesting historical hybrid of public, private, and religious schools, with more choice than most places in the U.S. (and transit is full of commuting students). As a result, location has much less impact on access to (perceived) high-quality education, and so there has been less pressure for affluent parents to self-segregate in affluent suburbs – such as Mercer Island.