Skip to Content
Streetsblog New York City home
Streetsblog New York City home
Log In
Streetsblog

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 New York City

SUV Driver Kills Girl, 3, in Harlem, Wounds Mom And Young Brothers

The girl's death marks another grim entry into a crisis of pedestrian traffic deaths this year.

July 12, 2024

Moped and E-Bike Safety Legislation Becomes State Law

Retailers must register mopeds at the point of sale, in addition to giving new owners safety information, under new legislation signed by Gov. Hochul on Thursday.

July 12, 2024

Roadway Dining May See Dramatic Decline Under Eric Adams As Deadline Looms

Fewer than two dozen restaurants are in the pipeline for roadside seating, according to public records.

July 12, 2024

Opinion: Congestion Pricing Is A Compromise

Alternatives paths to cut congestion and pollution and fund the MTA make congestion tolls look like a cheap parlor trick.

July 12, 2024

Friday’s Headlines: Department of Victim Blaming Edition

Traffic deaths in the city are on pace to reach their highest number since at least 2013 — and DOT is reportedly blaming "jaywalking." Plus more news.

July 12, 2024
See all posts