Tonight I was at a fundraiser for my heartthrob organization, Transportation Alternatives, where I heard the former mayor of Bogota, Columbia, Enrique Penalosa speak. According to the Project for Public Spaces:
While mayor, Peñalosa was responsible for numerous radical improvements to the city and its citizens. He promoted a city model giving priority to children and public spaces and restricting private car use, building hundreds of kilometers of sidewalks, bicycle paths, pedestrian streets, greenways, and parks.
Tonight, Penalosa said that he had seen countries where the poor people had no clean water to drink, and yet there were highways upon which rich people could drive because the people with money and power get what they want while the poor stay thirsty.
Similarly, he said he had seen transportation systems where poor people had to walk or bike unprotected on highways and risk being killed because figuring out how to move poor people who had to walk was less important than figuring out how to move rich people who had fancy cars.
That is not civilized.
A country’s transportation systems, Penalosa said, should be designed to maximize the happiness of the people who live in it. A country that attempts to maximize the happiness and quality of life of its citizens? Now that is civilized.
And by that criterion, he said, what marks a country as civilized is not a good system of highways. Instead, what marks a country as civilized is a good system of sidewalks.