Pat's View: Why are we working so hard to solve yesterday's problems?
By Patrick Robinson
The American economy is based on one of the tenets of capitalism. Growth equals good. But we live finite lives, live on a planet with shrinking resources, perpetuating what amounts to a delusion that more people, bigger vehicles, bigger homes, more homes, supersized meals, big gulps, and mega projects are how it all was meant to work. Clearly it’s not what we really want. Do you really want more concrete canyons full of corporate run outlets and micro apartments? Do you really want a forest of massive pillars carrying 600 ton trains running through your neighborhood?
All for what? To transport people downtown and back again in ever growing numbers. Is it not clear yet that retail shopping has changed forever? Are we collectively unaware that remote work and augmented reality are forces that are here to stay?
Why are people so anxious to live with paper thin walls, and packed together on trains and busses or to get trapped in traffic jams wasting a major portion of each day?
In 1973 brilliant economist EF Schumacher wrote a collection of essays called “Small is beautiful.”
He argued that capitalism brought higher living standards at the cost of deteriorating culture. His belief that natural resources should be conserved led him to conclude that bigness—in particular, large industries and large cities—would lead to the depletion of those resources. The full text is available here.
In West Seattle we face this dilemma in the next decade. The so called “Growth Imperative” of capitalism means bigger profits, more sales, in a never ending, always ascending path into infinity. That’s nonsense of course. That’s not how the world actually works. Hence the rise of sustainability, recycling, solar power, and other self imposed control factors that recognize there are limits and that limits are in fact good.
Here comes Sound Transit with a plan to bring light rail to us by, they say 2030. More likely delayed by other factors to 2035. And the projected cost of the two lines (including Ballard) jumped from $7.9 billion in 2019 to $12.1 billion–a jump exceeding 50% this year.
We have suffered with the lack of the West Seattle high rise bridge, as the traffic spilled into other neighborhoods. We love our cars. But next summer, the bridge will be back. Carrying the 100,000 people per day across the Duwamish.
Isn’t that enough? Do we really want to be Bellevue? Do we even want to be Ballard?
Do we honestly want those massive pillars coming up into the Junction all so we can leave? Isn’t the quality of life here part of why we live here.
I’m suggesting that building a massive anthill of tiny apartments, and an ant trail built on concrete trees is the opposite of what we want or need.
Is growth inevitable or is it just what we are used to, what corporations demand? Why can’t we live in a place that is renewable, attend to changes as they become necessary, and live in a more sustainable, steady state world?
In the next ten years, some massive changes are going to take place if we can keep ourselves from getting blown up by people who we are competing for resources with. Computers will get orders of magnitude faster. Augmented reality will be commonplace. Transportation as a service will be firmly entrenched. Autonomous vehicles will be in use in many cities.
The very fabric of work and life will be rewoven. A lot of us are not going to need to go downtown, or to Everett, or Tacoma.
We are building more infrastructure at great cost in service of growth nobody really wants.
Don't build it and they won't come.
So why are we working so hard to build a solution to yesterday’s problems?