Tag Archives: Vox

What’s in an American City: Historically, Cars

Last fall, I came across a post on Vox about high-speed rail. If you’ve read some of the things I published when I first started writing, you’ll know that I’m a big proponent of it. This post on Vox was meant to talk about some of the things that Americans can learn from Europeans when it comes to high-speed rail. In particular, California from Germany. The the part I want to focus on, though, is a paragraph with an historical perspective:

Europeans’ cities were more built up before the car, and they didn’t then tear their cities apart to accommodate cars and facilitate sprawl, as we did. The US is so vast that we could pave everything within 200 miles of New York City and still have more than enough land for our corn and cows. But if Europeans wanted to preserve rural areas, they would have to use urban space more efficiently, and so they have. A much greater share of the typical European metro area’s population is concentrated in its inner city. So you get dense, transit-rich cities with countryside in between.

When I first started writing about high-speed rail and even in that post I linked to in the second sentence of this post, I didn’t take into account the historical perspective. I did talk about land area, but the composition of that land area might be more important than the land area itself. If there isn’t the space “in the city” to put the high-speed rail, it’s going to take a yeomen’s effort and a healthy serving of political capital to create that space. The unfortunate part is, as time moves forward, the necessity (and gains!) of high-speed rail increase. The population of some of the biggest cities in the US (that would be served by better public transportation) is increasing and while I’m not sure the best way to measure it, I suspect that the business between cities (i.e. the necessity to travel between cities where high-speed rail would be beneficial) is probably increasing.

So, where does that leave high-speed rail proponents, aside from considering an extended trip to Europe? That’s a great question. It seems that there’s still going to be those organizations that lobby Congress, but if I had to hazard a guess (or a forecast, if you will), I suspect that the most likely way for there to be an improvement in high-speed rail in the US is some sort of catalyzing event. You might even call it a tipping point. One such way could be an increase in the cost of oil (i.e. jet fuel), skyrocketing the price of flying and forcing people to consider other modes of transportation from Chicago to New York. It might also be that a presidential candidate takes up the issue of public transportation and rides it as their “thing” to the White House (and then implements the plan within the first 100 days of office). Both of those scenarios aren’t very likely, but this pie-in-the-sky thinking is where high-speed rail proponents find themselves.

The “Real” Purpose of TV (& Movies): Education, Inspiration, and Storytelling, Part 2

A few years ago, I wrote a post about the purpose of TV and I think I sold it (TV) short. That is, in that post, I essentially decried TV:

Watching TV is a mechanism that allows people to stay at jobs that they are otherwise less pleased about. Being able to tune into a created reality (or sometimes an actual reality) of a situation that they envy or can vicariously live through is something that I think allows people to feel better about themselves and by extension their life. Feeling better about one’s life makes one less likely to reflect on the things that aren’t going as well as they would have planned in life. So, like I said, I don’t proclaim to know the real purpose of TV, but I think that it can be argued that a fair majority of television is meant to entertain, allow for escapism, and sustain employment.

While I still think that there’s some truth to what I wrote over 4 years ago, as I indicated earlier, I think I’ve sold TV short. And while we’re at it, movies, too. Maybe there’s more to TV and film than entertainment, escapism, and employment. Well, of course there is, but let’s get into it.

Maybe there’s also an element of education to it. Remember my post from the other week on fictional presidents and the sunk cost trap? If the the script were written differently, that could have shown viewers the more optimal choice.

Or what about the idea that watching a TV show or a movie can inspire us? Last year, Reese Witherspoon starred (and was rightfully nominated for an Oscar!) in the movie Wild. The movie was based on Cheryl Strayed’s memoir regarding her trek on the Pacific Crest Trail. Importantly, the movie didn’t give viewers misconceptions about hiking 2,500 miles. It’s hard. With that being said, consider this:

“People are definitely worried about the ‘Wild’ effect, though we can’t really figure out what it is yet,” said Dan Moe, a baker from Portland, Oregon who’s hiking this year.

He said while he thinks there are more hikers on the trail this year, he hasn’t yet met anyone who’s out there because of the book or film.

“At least they don’t admit it,” he said.

To add to that:

Before the book was published, about 300 people would take out permits to attempt the full hike, which usually takes four to five months. It’s not yet known how many will try this year, but estimates range from 1,600 to 3,000 — 10 times the number who tried before the book came out.

So, while we may be wrong to infer causality here, there certainly appears to be a correlation worth noting.

There are two more things I want to address. The first, “you can’t be what you can’t see.” This is the motto of a movie/documentary of which I’ve written about many times before: Miss Representation. There has certainly been a lot of progress (at least there appears to have been) since that movie came out, with regard to women having more prominent roles, but similar to the anecdote from above, I’d caution on inferring causality. However, I will say that I’m glad to hear that it appears that there’s this concerted effort arising. For instance, did you know that there’s going to be female Thor? Or that they’re bringing back Macgyver as a female?

Lastly, there’s the idea that TV is a mechanism for storytelling. While that may seem obvious, consider the time before movies, TV, and radio, when we’d have to sit around the fire and tell stories to each other. This was the way that many things were passed on from generation to generation and now we have things like the Internet where we don’t even need to hear the story from someone — we can read all about it (and the blatant hyperbole contained within).

There was a great article on Vox a couple weeks back with the main thesis that the recent string of superhero movies have been an attempt to rewrite the images of 9/11. It’s really a very interesting read and I encourage you to check it out, but I think this adds to the idea that TV (and movies) are and can be much more to us than a place to escape. They can also be a place where we heal. That may seem somewhat ironic given that the average American spends 3 hours a day watching TV (and, in a sense, accelerates their ageing/death because of sedentariness), but maybe it’s time we have a bit more compassion for those among us who would rather go to the movies or binge-watch a season of Star Trek.