by Sam Hieb
Weighing in on the coronavirus, Antiplanner quotes the great author Stephen Ambrose:
“One of the first things you learn in the Army is that, when you and your fellow soldiers are within range of enemy artillery, rifle fire, or bombs, don’t bunch up,” wrote Ambrose in the Wall Street Journal. Now that the U.S. was under attack from terrorists, Ambrose urged the nation as a whole to learn the same lesson: “don’t bunch up.” “In this age of electronic revolution,” he noted, “it is no longer necessary to pack so many people and office into such small space as lower Manhattan.”
As Antiplanner correctly notes, Ambrose’s advice has been ignored, and if certain people have their way, it will continue to be ignored. City planners are constantly trying to “bunch us up” with high-density development, bans on single-family zoning and public transportation:
…urban planners want to impose policies on us to get people on transit and into high-density housing. They want urban-growth boundaries that make land too expensive for single-family housing. They want to dedicate arterial lanes to buses and bicycles so the increased traffic congestion will force people to stop driving. They aren’t even sure why they want these things, but they’ve managed to convince many people that single-family homes and private automobiles are wasteful and evil despite the fact that both are more energy efficient than the alternatives of multifamily housing and transit.
….(S)top encouraging densification. Stop subsidizing transit-oriented developments. Stop demanding that single-family neighborhoods be rezoned for denser housing (which, paradoxically, will actually make housing less affordable). Abolish urban-growth boundaries and other restrictions on development at the urban fringe. If someone wants to live in a high-density building, that’s fine, but let the market determine how people live, not urban planning dogma based on a crazy lady who was right to question the high-rise housing projects but wrong to think that, because she liked Greenwich Village, it was the model for all urban life.
Social distancing–not bunching up–is the appropriate response in the presence of a novel disease. But it will still be the appropriate response after the COVID-19 virus is no longer a threat. Let’s hope people learn the lesson this time. For that to happen, we may need some government distancing.
With all this in mind, let’s take a look at North Carolina’s poster child for ‘bunching up’–Charlotte—and see what lessons they’ve learned from the coronavirus. Just like light rail–doesn’t appear they’ve learned much at all.