Tuesday, November 05, 2013

Street Fight 2

Jason Henderson

Jason Henderson seems to think he's a thinker. The Bay Guardian and Streetsblog accept him at his own valuation, since he's anti-car and pro-bike, which is important in how San Francisco progressives define themselves.

Henderson's three different ideological categories in Street Fight defining how people think about transportation does nothing to clarify matters. It just creates a layer of abstraction that conveys a false sense of profundity by, in Henderson's words, "deconstructing the ideologies that undergird and inform the debate about streets and urban space."

I elucidate how three competing ideologies---progressive, neoliberal, and conservative---have come to dominate the contemporary political discourse about urban mobility in San Francisco and arguably throughout the United States.

Anti-carism is an important issue for city progressives---the anti-car, pro-bike movement is a creation of the liberal-left---but Henderson's riff on ideology "elucidates" nothing, since ideology has nothing to do with how people think about transportation.

In Henderson's terminology, "progressives seek to use government to limit the overall amount of automobility." This is correct, since SF progressives are the most fervent supporters of the city's anti-car movement: "Moreover, the progressive spirit questions the need for excessive, unfettered movement." Except for cyclists, of course, but not those driving devilish motor vehicles.

On the other hand, "Neoliberals, consistent with the broader agenda of privatization of space and market-based pricing of public access to space, envision a mobility system shaped by pricing and markets rather than by regulation and collective action."

And "conservative politics of mobility posits that unfettered movement is a prerequisite of individual liberty and freedom and that government should proactively accommodate uninhibited movement, mainly by car...Conservative discourse has mounted challenges to the progressive mobility vision of restricting automobility."

Who are these people? Not surprisingly Henderson doesn't name any individuals or groups in San Francisco that conform to this analysis because there aren't any. Transportation in San Francisco---and everywhere else---is about day-to-day practicality, not ideology. People use the means of transportation that fits their needs. Obviously our Muni system, for example, is not a product of the market system, except in the sense that people who can't afford cars rely on it to get to jobs and run errands. Fares only cover about 25% of its operational expenses. People who can afford cars, drive cars to get around. Ditto for cabs.

People like me---a Democrat and an Obama supporter---can't afford a car and rely on Muni and walking to get around, which has nothing to do with ideology. Henderson calls me a "conservative" (page 123), but I'm not by any sensible definition.

But Henderson has a convenient cop-out to justify not naming anyone or any group in the city that conforms to his categories: 

The narrative does not focus on personalities. I purposefully limit emphasis on key activists, politicians, developers, and other central actors, not because they do not matter but because emphasis on individual agency can divert attention from the attempt to understand the ideological context within which such personalities and characters arose.

The only people in San Francisco that approach transportation issues with something like an ideology are the anti-car bike people. I call it BikeThink:

Calling this mish-mash of historical ignorance, self-righteousness, self-congratulation, and anger an ideology is of course overstating the case. Still, add all the nonsense up and you have a more or less coherent point of view.

Tomorrow: Why San Francisco?

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15 Comments:

At 12:58 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

They never mention that MUNI receives a huge $1B from the general fund. Without it ...there is no mass transit. Where does the general fund come from? Continued business in the city...

 
At 1:24 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

"People like me---a Democrat and an Obama supporter---can't afford a car and rely on Muni and walking to get around, which has nothing to do with ideology."

I can't afford a car, either, and ride a bike to get around, which has nothing to do with ideology. But I'm sure you'd beg to differ.

 
At 12:31 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

What do you think the population of San Francisco will be in 2020? 2030? 2040?

 
At 12:46 PM, Anonymous sfthen said...

This is obviously just a vanity press publication but with the imprimatur of academia so that university libraries might buy it as they're budgeted by department. Copies will then sit on a shelf unread forever.

His "analysis" is just the Goldilocks technique, divide your target into three groups then invalidate two cases as justification of the one. It's Appleyard Streets and the 3Ts, it's how the ``best and brightest'' got America into Vietnam.

Instead of Henderson's:
``I elucidate how three competing ideologies---progressive, neoliberal, and conservative---have come to dominate the contemporary political discourse about urban mobility in San Francisco and arguably throughout the United States.''

an Art History major might write:
``I elucidate how three competing techniques---traditional, abstract, and surreal---have come to dominate the contemporary artistic movements in Germany and arguably throughout Europe.''

Same phrasing, same almost meaningless academic babble, ``Are you a progressive, neoliberal or conservative?'' Huh?
(In Hard Day's Night Ringo was asked, ``Are you a Mod or a Rocker?'' and he answered, ``I'm a mocker.'')

If you're at State instead of majoring in boring Geography why not go into Communication Arts, do something really intellectually challenging, develop your critical consciousness, get the background to become a streetsblog editor:
``Cultural Critique
Today's class (9/22/99) is the second part in a unit on censorship. In addition to a lively lecture about censorship precedents and implications, we watch part of a cable program featuring a woman applying lotion to her enormous (silicone) breasts, a graphic and emotional clip from a 1970's Vietnam documentary, and a short videotaped modern primitive performance in which a man recites poetry while impaling his scrotum with needles and filling it with saline. In the last few minutes of class, we watch as a man performs oral sex on his well-endowed male partner while masturbating himself. For a class of approximately 100 students, the room seems unusually silent during the last clip. At the end of the class period, the students begin leaving the room; some are very quiet, others giggle as they make their way to the door, while still others are talking to friends in hushed, somewhat frenetic tones. It's just another day in BECA 422.''

 
At 12:46 PM, Blogger Rob Anderson said...

I took geography in community college, and it was a pretty lightweight course intellectually, though not entirely without interest.

SF State used to have good history and English departments, but maybe it's gone downhill since I went there, with literally jerk-off courses like this.

 
At 1:04 PM, Blogger Rob Anderson said...

"I can't afford a car, either, and ride a bike to get around, which has nothing to do with ideology. But I'm sure you'd beg to differ."

No, I don't. But it's obvious that many cyclists do have an ideological rationale for their rather risky transportation "mode." But does anyone ride Muni because of an ideological commitment to public transportation?

 
At 3:26 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

People ride MUNI because they have an ideological commitment to catching diseases, having their phones stolen, getting knifed, and being late as they watch the bus driver take a potty break at the coffee shop.

Only a fool, a cripple, or someone with infinite time (and antibiotics) would choose MUNI over riding a bike.

 
At 4:04 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

"But does anyone ride Muni because of an ideological commitment to public transportation?"

Sure, I do. I imagine many people make decisions in their personal life to reflect to beliefs, e.g. their belief in reducing greenhouse gas emmisions, sustainable energy use, etc. Is there something wrong with that?

 
At 4:33 PM, Blogger Rob Anderson said...

Sure, I do. I imagine many people make decisions in their personal life to reflect to beliefs, e.g. their belief in reducing greenhouse gas emissions, sustainable energy use, etc. Is there something wrong with that?"

Nothing wrong with it. I just don't believe it's common. Of course you're someone of very high principles, which is why you announce your high-mindedness anonymously.

 
At 6:48 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

People ride MUNI because they have an ideological commitment to catching diseases

Case and point - Rob clearly caught dementia from riding MUNI

 
At 10:51 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Have you always been a bully and a pussy? If you weren't a pussy, you'd show up to city meetings and face the people you purport to despise. You're a piece of shit. Fuck you.

 
At 11:18 AM, Blogger Rob Anderson said...

You, on the other hand, are a pretty tough hombre, tossing around insults anonymously.

 
At 11:52 AM, Blogger Rob Anderson said...

"If you weren't a pussy, you'd show up to city meetings and face the people you purport to despise."

You want city politics to be some kind of public, personal psycho-drama? People like you are too chickenshit to even put your name on comments here, let alone make substantive comments to my arguments here. Instead it's insults and cutesy attempts at being witty. If anything I've said in these three posts on Henderson's books is untrue, let's hear it.

Besides, which city "meetings" involve any serious opposition to the dumb city policies that are harming the city? Not those of the Board of Supervisors, the Planning Commission, or the MTA, all of which are marching in lockstep behind dumb development and traffic policies.

I'm supposed to wait hours for the pro forma public comment period so that the city can pretend that it's having a serious debate on policy?

No thanks.

I went to a recent Board of Supervisors' committee meeting on the Geary BRT. The supervisors began by all showing up 15 minutes late to start the meeting, even though members of the public were there on time.

Then there was a parade of self-serving city employees---all on the clock, of course---making lame presentations on already done-deal issues.

The only meeting I regret missing was the one earlier this year when the people in Polk Gulch turned out en mass to jeer Ed Reiskin and his Polk Street bike project.

Reiskin will never do that again!

But even that meeting, which showed almost unanimous opposition to the MTA's proposed "improvements" to Polk Street, ended up with a project proposal that will still do a lot of damage to neighborhood that doesn't need any help from City Hall, except paving that street.

City Hall is a bloated bureaucracy of overpaid feather-bedders who have nothing better to do than dream up meddlesome "improvements" to city neighborhoods.

On the other hand, so good to see city voters reject the 8 Washington project for rich people, which of course was endorsed by the Planning Commission, the Planning Department, the mayor, and the Board of Supervisors!

 
At 9:27 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Rob sometimes it's hard to tell whether you're mocking yourself.

 
At 10:53 AM, Blogger Rob Anderson said...

How so?

 

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