Category Archives: philosophy/attitude

Faces of Transportation Equity in the USA: Roger Shope

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Ivan Illich on Energy and Equity

In 1974 the genius, erudite, courageous thinker and social visionary Ivan Illich wrote a small paradigm-challenging book entitled “Energy and Equity”, the entire contents of which is presented here.  The entire second half of the book is given over entirely to a reflection on transportation and equity, so what could be more appropriate to this project as we get underway for us to have some understanding of what this great mind had to say on our topic – a full generation ago. Continue reading

Einstein on your mind

Man and car: Who is driving whom this morning?

What is it about what the English call a motor car that, when an otherwise perfectly decent human enters it and slams the door shut, somehow there is a total transformation of that person gripping the stirring wheel into something, into someone who is just a little bit less decent and a little bit less human. A consistent theme of World Streets is that over the last hundred years or so our cars have not only transported us but they have also in the process also transformed us.  Oops. And in the process they have fatally (I chose my word) altered the dimensions of the space in which we live our daily lives, and in the same process made this thing that was supposed simply to transport us from A to B at our leisure, into a defining part of our daily lives — and indeed in some ways part of ourselves. A cruel critic might say, half Faust and half Frankenstein. Continue reading

Eyes on the streets: Luis in Quito Ecuador

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Locked in Suburbia: Is there life after Autopia?

Something like ten percent of our lonely planet’s population are today thoroughly locked in — or at least think they are — to an “automotive life style”.   While in barely two generations  the earth’s population has  tripled, the automotive age has, step by silent surreptitious step, changed the way we live — and in the process made us prisoners of just that technology that was supposed to make us free forever. That’s a bad joke and bad news. But there is worse yet, and it comes in two ugly bites. For starters, in addition to the ten percent of us already hapless prisoners of our cars, another twenty percent of our soon seven billion brothers and sisters are standing in line eagerly in the hope of getting  locked in as quickly as possible. And as if that were not bad enough, the consensus among most of the experts and policy makers is that our goose is forever cooked, and there is little anybody  can do about it. Well, maybe not. Spend some time this Monday morning with Paul Mees, as he attacks this received belief and suggests . . . Well, why don’t I just get out of the way and let Paul speak for himself. Continue reading

More on Illich, energy and equity

This commentary, just in from reader John Verity writing from Sonoma County, north of San Francisco, takes Illich beyond his original point of departure in this essay written in 1974, discussing the flow of his thinking on energy and technology that appeared in other pages and books in the decade that followed.

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Sharing: Humankind’s oldest technology is ready for a comeback

Long before automobiles and even science humankind discovered sharing tools, housing, roads, and wharfs, a natural way to reduce scarce labour and materials. And long before Adam Smith, we used the “profit” from such sharing to develop specialized skills and knowledge, both of which required sharing, and to build shared infrastructure. Now that we face rising prices for resources, thanks to looming shortages and better understanding of “externalities,” we need to face the prospect of putting on the brakes of our rush to individual consumption. Do we do without or do we share in ways that increase, rather than, reduce, our quality of life? Continue reading

Energy and Equity, Ivan Illich.

Earlier this week I proposed the idea of a group read and commentary on Illich’s incisive and important 1974 book “Energy and Equity”, but as I thrashed through my personal library I was unable to lay my hands on what I remember as a small book with a yellow cover. Luckily Jane Voodikon, a Jason Chang Fellow and journalist from Chengdu, came to the rescue with a link to the full text which follows (thanks in turn to and certainly with the full approval of Illich given the fact that Amazon’ best price for the hard cover edition today was $269.21). How do you think these remarks and views stand the test of time? We need to bear in mind the political (Vietnam, Cold War, Allende,  1968, etc.) currents of the time, along with the Oil Crisis, Club of Rome, The Limits of Growth,  etc., discussions, concerns and panics of the early seventies.  But none of this detracts from the singular vision that this exceptional observer and finest of men has given us.

So here you have it. The whole thing. Print it out. Mark it up. Share your thoughts. Let me take a single phrase from the book to get the ball rolling: “Participatory democracy postulates low-energy technology. Only participatory democracy creates the conditions for rational technology.” (And this almost two decades before the phrase “sustainable development” first appeared on the radar screen.  So off we go with Illich as our guide!) Continue reading

Street Talk: Ivan Illich on Sharing in Transport

“The habitual passenger cannot grasp the folly of traffic based overwhelmingly on transport*. His inherited perceptions of space and time and of personal pace have been industrially deformed. He has lost the power to conceive of himself outside the passenger role. Addicted to being carried along, he has lost control over the physical, social, and psychic powers that reside in man’s feet. The passenger has come to identify territory with the untouchable landscape through which he is rushed. He has become impotent to establish his domain, mark it with his imprint, and assert his sovereignty over it. He has lost confidence in his power to admit  others into his presence and to share space consciously with them. He can no longer face the remote by himself. Left on his own, he feels immobile.”

Ivan Illich in Energy and Equity (Chapter: Speed-stunned imagination) Continue reading

Kaohsiung 2010 Papers. Sharing/Strategy for a Small Planet. Part I

After many decades of a single dominant city-shaping transportation pattern – i.e., for those who could afford it: owning and driving our own cars, trucks, motorcycles and bicycles, getting into taxis by ourselves, riding in streets that are designed for cars and not much else — there is considerable evidence accumulating that we have already entered into a world of new mobility practices that are changing the transportation and city landscape in many ways. It has to do with sharing, as opposed to outright ownership. But strange to say, this trend seems to have escaped the attention of the policymakers in many of the institutions directly concerned. Continue reading

Bodhisattva in the metro

The Sanskrit term Bodhisattva is the name given to anyone who, motivated by great compassion and wisdom, has generated bodhichitta, a spontaneous wish to attain Buddhahood for the benefit of all sentient beings. What makes someone a Bodhisattva is her or his spontaneous and limitless dedication to the ultimate welfare of others.

(May we suggest that you view this at least two times? Get comfortable.)

It’s not the destination, it’s the voyage.

Merci Christine.


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The scenarist and director of “Merci” is Christine Rabette (she is the one reading the book). Produced by Patrick Quinet and Artémis Productions, Belgium – With the support of the Centre du Cinéma et de l’Audiovisuel de la Communauté française (CCA), Belgium — //


Paris, Monday, 29 March 2010

PS. What is it supposed to mean?

I was afraid I might be asked this question, and indeed I have on several occasions in the last day. So in all respect let me give this a stab, although I really do hesitate because in a way I see this as an intrusion on your interpretation, which is the only one that counts. So be it.

Essentially I had three thoughts lurking at the back of my mind in wanting to share this short film with you. None of them being ha-ha jovial.

The first is that I see it as pure Zen, by which in this case I mean it is what you want it to be. If you have the patience for it (your call!), it is well done, it is about life, and it is oh so gently about people. So to me, even as a World/Streets guy, the fact that it takes place in an urban transport mode is not at all the main point. But to each of us, her/his own.

The second idea was to see if this might serve for some as a quiet, close to subliminal call to encourage us all to get comfortable with different thinking about our mission, and more generally that of planners and policy makers when faced with the challenges that World/Streets among many others attempts to address. I hope I am hurting no one’s feelings greatly when I make the point that much of the work that is planned and executed in our sector all too often combines high technical virtuosity, or at least talent, with a bit too narrow vision as to what cities are all about. Too much attention given to infrastructure, and not enough to people. (Did that come across for you?)

Finally, I wanted to see if this might reinforce one of our fundamental precepts here at World/Streets, which is that we need to give more attention to happiness as a goal of our work and choices. As a reformed economist I certainly do not want to surrender all of the terrain of happiness vs. your favorite indicator to Amartya Sen and Joe Stiglitz (as per their exemplary contribution via the Commission on the Measurement of Economic Performance and Social Progress). They have helped to blaze this path, but we now need to take it further in our own work.

More happiness in transport, more happiness in cities. Tell me that this is not a noble goal?

Eric Britton
Editor, World/Streets

PS. And oh yes, tell us what you think this is all about. That’s what the Comments section just below is for.

The Transportation Majority. Can't politicians count?

Public transport? Cycling? Walking? Car pooling? Car sharing? Stuck at home? Elderly? Handicapped? Spend my hard-earned money for them? Bah! Who needs it? Why bother if it’s just for a few marginal people? Let’s concentrate on the big problems, those of the majority of people. Us drivers and our cars. We are the transportation majority.

In the world of human mobility there is, as it turns out, no one “big problem”. And hence no big solutions. There is, for better or worse, just an ever-changing confluence of a very large number of different problems, different people, different desires, different daily life realities, different needs, different constraints, different priorities, different possibilities, and different decisions. And different actions. And different consequences.

The old mobility vision of society is essentially one of striding workers, with secure jobs, fixed hours, well defined trips, leaping into their car and then buckling up for “safe driving”. Very nice.

All of whom well served by our “normal transportation arrangements”, that is the huge and hugely expansive infrastructure that we continue to build and repair to support automotive transportation (and those largely empty cars).

Something like eighty percent of the local transportation funding in most cities of the world goes for that car-supporting infrastructure: roads, bridges, cloverleafs, tunnels, supporting elections, policing, accident prevention, and the long list goes on. Life is sweet.

Then there are “the rest”, among them: the old, disabled, poor, rural, etc., etc. And of course the poor old disabled rural.

They too of course need to be catered to as well. Fair enough. Let’s give them a bit here and a bit there too. But most of our hard-earned tax money is still going to be spent on providing high quality mobility arrangements for “normal people”. That’s right, isn’t it?

Sorry but no, it’s not at all right. It is in fact 100% wrong. It is wrong because it is grossly unfair and uncivil. And beyond that, it is also based on a false precept. Why?

Because that splendid vision of society with thee and me at the wheel with the wind blowing through our golden hair, simply does not jibe with reality. It never did in the past, and as our societies age it increasingly is absurdly contrary to reality. Here is the surprise, the kicker:

The “transportation majority” is not what most people think, transportation planners and policy makers among them.

The transportation majority are all those of us who increasingly are poorly served by the mainline, no-choice, car-based truncated service arrangements that eat up most of our taxpayer money and take away our choices. And each year, as our populations age this majority grows in numbers.

Here is a generic short-list of the people who make up this till-now all too silent majority:

1. Everyone in your city, country or electorate who does not have a car

2. Everyone who cannot drive

3. Everyone who cannot afford to own and operate a car of their own (And remember that costs a lot of after-tax money)

4. Everyone who should not drive (for reasons of a variety of impediments such as limitations associated with age, psychological state , , , ,)

5. Everyone who lives in a large city and for reasons of density, public health and quality of city life needs to have access to a non-car mobility system

6. Everyone who would in fact prefer to get around by walking, cycling or some form of shared transport who cannot safely or readily do so, because all the money is being spent on the car-based system which is fundamentally, and financially, incompatible with these “softer” and more healthy ways of getting around

7. Everyone who suffers from some form of impairment that makes driving or even access to traditional public transit difficult or impossible

8. Everyone who cannot responsibly take the wheel at any given time (fatigue, distraction, nervousness, some form of intoxication. . . )

9. All those who are today isolated and unable to participate in the life of our communities fully because they simply do not have a decent way to get around.

10. And — don’t lose sight of this! – in a few years you!

How do we work our way out of this? Simple, get out there and vote!

Vote for mayors, counselors and legislators who are ready to work for the transportation majority.

Vote for mayors, counselors and legislators who are ready to join the transportation majority and get to work and around their city by public transport, walking, bicycle, carpool, or carsharing. Or better yet some combination all of the above.

And don’t vote for the other guys.

They will get your message.

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Editor’s note:

Several of our readers have pointed out that while this may be interesting, the only way to make the point is to put numbers to it. Exactly! But this has to be done on a place by place basis, so one can hope that this will be done and that we shall be seeing the results of this important metric here and in many other places.