- a collection of notes and reflections on urban living from the perspective of a family of five in Tokyo. My epiphany was many years ago, but being hit by a motorbike and seeing my life flash before my eyes caused a sudden change that slowly made me reflect on whether American style auto-centric urban transportation of the Roosevelt era really is a capital G "Good Idea" for civilized modern cities in the 21st Century. This blog explores the good and the bad in urban planning and design, here and elsewhere. The goal is simple - not "death to all cars," just more walkable communities, quiet tree-lined streets, good public transport, traffic calming, Velib style bicycle sharing and a bit of common sense. The bolg is mostly theraputic, so I don't go wanting to throttle every dangerous driver I come across, but partly also out of a real desire to see positive change. This blog explores how it can be done, the people who do it, and how, in many small ways, this very old idea may at last have found its zeitgeist. Comments and suggestions welcome.

Friday, April 14, 2006

Environmental Advocacy and Cynicism - a caution

Recently, I ranted to the email list of my Namban Rengo running club friends about how, in preparation for the new Tokyo Marathon (innagural race in Feb 2007, attracting 30,000 runners) the government has resealed and widened a huge swathe of roads, making footpaths rediculously narrow in places. In particular, Shinobazu dori, they made the footpath extremely narrow, destroying the atmosphere of an old part of town, and making walking in the area very dangerous and unpleasant because now the cars travel much faster and are much more agressive. It also made it nearly impossible for the hundreds (thousands?) of people who ride their bicycles in the area, to park outside the supermarket. The irony is, the space where hundreds of bicycles previously parked is occupied now, not by flowing traffic, but by a few parked cars of people who like to drive to the shop. Meanwhile the bicycles are crowding a now rediculously narrow footpath, to the frustration of everyone, and a sign has gone up saying "no bicycle parking". No alternative seems to have been even considered, as if to say that bicycles are just plain wrong.

Anyway, I wrote my big rant, and then realized how much of an angry old bastard I was becoming. Maybe there is a place for this kind of rant, but really it does need to be directed in the right direction.

This got me thinking. I have heard it said that hipocracy is the homage that vice pays to virtue. It seems insidious statement to me, but perhaps it is true. And conversely, one might say that cynicism is sometimes the contempt that virtue pays to vice. But then if you really think of it, cynicism and contempt are not really virtues anyway, so in the end I'm really just being a grumpy old bastard.

Long and short, I think there is a place in society for the grumpy old bastard. On the whole, they probably contribued to the greater good. But at an individual level, we're just grumpy old bastards, so we can't get on any high-horse just because we gripe about problems like this. And we probably shouldn't make a habit of always being grumpy old bastards, because on an individual level, it's not a very virtuous way to live. I've noticed that many environmental advocates get so involved in their pet awareness projects that they forget this point, often to the detriment of family relationships. I guess I am just trying to give a little caution - let's keep fighting hard, but also be sure to keep a balance in life. Perhaps that is why those cycle tours organized by advocacy groups are so popular, and so much damn fun, because it is a chance for people with a common goal to just let their hair down, forget about the fight, and just have a good time.