Late last week, the Department of Transportation announced it was launching a third round of TIGER (Transportation Investment Generating Economic Recovery — I feel queasy just typing that) Discretionary Grants. The first two, which funded such brilliant projects as the “commuter” bike trails in northwest Arkansas and a streetcar line in Salt Lake City (context: about 5.5 percent of commuters in Salt Like City proper use transit; the metro area’s share is about 3 percent; most of the ridership is projected to come from those who currently ride far cheaper and more efficient buses), were complete duds: little more than giveaways to the local politicians who filled out the applications the best.
“Livability,” that meaningless term that recently infected the already annoying lexicons of many New Urbanist technocrats, is the major theme and it is driving all sorts of silly investment decisions. And it is likely that Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood’s next $527 million will bolster the same types of waste investment.
As I noted last October when TIGER II grants were announced, only a third of funding went to road projects. “Livability,” you see, really means, “go to hell, drivers!” This vague and vacuous concept also has about as much logical and moral justification as yuppies slumming in 1980s New York. More power to you, folks, but others shouldn’t have to subsidize your temporary preferred way of life.
Schlepping overpriced organic groceries up five flights of stairs to a tiny studio apartment is now the “in” lifestyle for some (note: not many). Even self-described libertarians can fall for this sort of thing — and I say that as a carless, libertarian bike-commuter living in a central Washington, D.C., rent-controlled apartment. As Alan Pisarski has said, “Well it turns out I was living the livable life style when I was growing up in Queens, New York in the fifties and didn’t know it. Here all along I just thought we were poor.”
Despite what Richard Florida claims, there is still very little evidence that the New Urban Revival is anything but a short-term fad, one likely reinforced by our present economic uncertainty. Remember when the planners said the exact same thing was going to happen in the ’90s [PDF]? I guess that makes the last 20 years the urbanists’ Lost Decades. When the millennials start getting better jobs (well, start getting jobs), begin marrying and having children, they will probably start looking for larger homes with larger lots in the lower-density suburbs. There does appear to be a trend among young adults that suggests marriage and higher-paying jobs will come later, but this will likely only delay the next suburban boom.
The TIGER grants’ focus on promoting urbanism and transit is little more than an expensive bow to the greens and career urban renewalists, who, of course, have never, ever been wrong [PDF] about anything.