Tagged: society

Whose Streets? Our Streets.

Content advisory: this post contains reference to police violence.

Baton Rouge, four days after a police officer fatally shot a subdued Alton Sterling: protestors take to the streets to demand justice in the name of yet another black man executed by the state. Police warn protestors not to walk in the street. There are no sidewalks. Prominent activist DeRay McKesson is arrested, along with a hundred or so other protestors.

Jane Jacob’s Death and Life forewarns of the gradual erosion of public spaces, and ultimately the privatization of social spaces. Similarly, the public spaces that remain have since trended towards the exclusion of those who have not purchased membership into the club of automobile ownership—in a sense, its own form of privatizing public space.

Public spaces like Times Plaza, at the crossroads of Flatbush, Atlantic, and 4th Avenues in Brooklyn, provide an opportunity for strangers to spontaneously meet and discuss civic issues

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The Fallacy of Neutrality

It is difficult to pinpoint a single idea or experience that led me to believe that our current allocation of street uses is inherently unjust. There was no epiphanic “a-ha!” moment, nor a sudden catalyst which concretized my convictions. This, unfortunately, makes it difficult to explain my perspective, which is admittedly quite distant from the conventional viewpoint. In light of this, any attempt to boil down the essence of my beliefs into a satisfactory starting point has proved to be quite challenging.

In my attempts to do just that however, I kept returning to this one point which is necessary to understand my views. That is, there is no such thing as absolute neutrality. Now, I don’t just mean this in the obvious sense, in that a person can never fully remove their own self-interest and personal experience from consideration in pursuing true impartiality. What I mean is that all systems, by their very nature, harbor implicit biases which favor some things over others. All systems have incentives and disincentives woven into their very fabric. Moreover, there is an implied balance of power in any given framework. To claim that something is neutral can only be true relative to a given system, not in any absolute sense.

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Fourth Avenue in Brooklyn illustrates how the lack of consideration for the inherent differences between modes creates a hostile environment for non-motorized transport, rather than a neutral environment.

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