Skip to Content
Streetsblog USA home
Streetsblog USA home
Log In
Streetsblog.net

On Individualism, Being American and Striving for Sustainability

Yesterday, Americans celebrated independence -- strictly speaking, our independence from the British crown. More broadly speaking, the Fourth of July is also a celebration of personal independence, freedom and individualism.

false

Since for many people the single-family home has come to represent, as George H. W. Bush put it, "the American way of life," urbanists often find themselves on the defensive when the subject turns to sustainable development and personal freedoms. But as Roger Valdez at Seattle Transit Blog points out, the nation's founders had more nuanced views than many people realize:

The first words of our written Constitution, imperfect as it may be, are plural: “We the people.

Digging bunkers won’t help us address the pressing environmental and economic problems we face. We have to tap into that other strain of American idealism represented by figures like John Adams, Henry Clay and Daniel Webster who are often marginalized by our worship of Thomas Jefferson. Clay developed the American System, a comprehensive, government driven expansion of infrastructure that built a transportation system for the United States in its early years.

Individual expression is important, but so is our civic duty to others and we should articulate this aspect of American tradition more clearly in our language when we talk to people about growth and sustainability. American tradition includes the common cause, and supporting each other in times of change and challenge. Building better cities in our region, funding transit, and planning for sustainable growth will mean thinking big and beyond the principled stand of lone individuals protecting their rights.

Elsewhere on the Network today: Baltimore Spokes shares data condemning Maryland's track record on bike and pedestrian spending. Transport Nexus wonders if zoning is really the biggest culprit for America's car dependency. And The Bellows responds to criticism that "market-based urbanists" are too intent on describing the problems with zoning and planning policies and not focused enough on providing solutions.

Stay in touch

Sign up for our free newsletter

More from Streetsblog USA

Tuesday’s Headlines Turn Up the Heat

Triple-digit heat, fueled by climate change, is warping rail lines, interrupting construction work on transit lines and causing burns on sidewalks.

July 16, 2024

These Are the Most Dangerous Congressional Districts for Pedestrians

The deadliest congressional districts in America are dominated by BIPOC communities — and federal officials need to step up to save the most vulnerable road users.

July 16, 2024

Delivery Worker Minimum Wage Shows Promise … For Some, Data Shows

New data from New York City's Department of Consumer and Worker Protection shows minimum wage is bringing order to a previously wild industry.

July 15, 2024

Monday’s Headlines Go Through Basic Training

An NYU study looks into why the U.S. is lagging behind on high-speed rail, and one transportation expert ponders the impact on growth.

July 15, 2024

Sustainable Transportation Advocates Need to Talk About Sustainable Urban Design

A new book hopes to act as a "magic decoder ring" to our built environment — and a powerful tool to understand how sustainable transportation networks can fit within them.

July 15, 2024
See all posts