“Amsterdam is a wonderful city, but Americans never seem to want to live there.”
— David Brooks in the New York Times
In his latest piece in the New York Times, columnist David Brooks opines that, while Americans might appreciate the finer points of Amsterdam’s urban life (like bikes and beer), they really would rather have their suburbs.
Citing the economic downturn and recent momentum of ideas about sustainable transportation and livability, Brooks writes:
The time has finally come, some writers are predicting, when Americans will finally repent. They’ll move back to the urban core. They will ride more bicycles, have smaller homes and tinier fridges and rediscover the joys of dense community — and maybe even superior beer.
America will, in short, finally begin to look a little more like Amsterdam.
Well, Amsterdam is a wonderful city, but Americans never seem to want to live there. And even now, in this moment of chastening pain, they don’t seem to want the Dutch option.
As evidence of what Americans really want, Brooks discusses the results of a recent survey from Pew Research Center, which asked: “Where would Americans most like to live — and how do they feel about the place they currently call home?”
Survey participants weighed in on whether they preferred to live in a city, suburb, small town or rural area; if they liked where they lived now (about half do); what city they’d most like to live in (Portland is in the top 10); and whether they’d prefer to live near a Starbucks or a McDonalds (about even).
“…As if tens of thousands of Portlanders are forced to commute by bike every morning.”
— Ben Fried, Streetsblog
Ben Fried at Streetsblog has already issued a scathing rebuttal, calling Brooks “the nation’s most famous sprawl apologist.”. He points out that the Pew statistics could also be read to show that most Americans prefer to live in cities (emphasis mine):
…Which won’t stop Brooks and his ilk from advancing a favorite straw man argument at every opportunity: that planners want to take everyone’s car away and force people to adopt a different lifestyle. As if tens of thousands of Portlanders are forced to commute by bike every morning. Or a shadowy cabal put a premium on house values near Denver light rail. Or jackbooted thugs marched Americans to polls at gunpoint last November and ordered them to vote for $75 billion worth of transit-related ballot initiatives.
The sprawl dead-enders can deride “planners” and scream “Amsterdam!” all they want. It’s easy to see why they protest so much: If they ever acknowledged the fact that ending car-dependency is about giving people choices, it might lead to some self-incriminating conclusions about who’s trying to put restrictions on whom.
It’s also worth noting that many of the top ten cities that survey respondents said they would like to live in — Denver, Seattle, Portland — already have, or are working overtime to create Amsterdam-like facilities for public transportation, walk-ability, bike-ability, and of course, good beer.
What do you think? Where would you rather live?
Elly Blue has been writing about bicycling and carfree issues for BikePortland.org since 2006. Find her at http://takingthelane.com