Jeff noticed a good dose of “windshield perspective” in the newspaper coverage of NYCDOT’s recent announcement that the Broadway pedestrian malls would be made permanent. Historically, newspapers have always represented a pretty upper middle class view of urban life — and that long has meant that they firmly took the side of drivers.
I saw an interesting illustration of this phenomenon recently, put into starker relief by the context. While I was in Hong Kong, the South China Morning Post had a long feature article (by Austin Chiu, 29 January; archives aren’t linkable) on how a few blocks of Ho Chung village was about to lose its only road. A notice had been posted to remove all cars from the village, since they’d soon be barricaded in — but one recent Anglophone arrival was peeved, adamantly maintaining that universal road access was “the responsibility of the government.” This is not a view that others, much less the government, seemed to share: 95% of households don’t own cars, and many thousands live far beyond the reach of cars — along narrow footpaths, up on steep hillsides, deep within complexes or high-rises. (It’s long been a goal of mine to live somewhere so far out of car culture’s reach that you physically can’t drive there.)
This article struck me as pretty strange on a few levels:
1. That a neighborhood could be made to go car-free
2. That road access was not widely understood as a universal entitlement
3. That such closures were not unusual
4. That someone could not notice something that seemingly obvious
5. That said person would bother complaining only at the last possible moment
6. That even the complaint was largely on procedural terms, about notification
7. That the newspaper would portray that complaint sympathetically, going so far as to point out how easy it would be for the government to build a bridge to replace the road (which crossed private land).
Actually, that last point is the least surprising one: it’s an English newspaper with a relatively wealthy readership who would sympathize better with the car-owning Anglo than with his car-free Chinese neighbors.