The best thing former president Bush did for South America was to forget that it existed after 2001. Instead of falling into neglect, many South American economies discovered they were perfectly capable of building their wealth without foreign aid from the United States and its Monroe Doctrine to the north. Left to their own, many did better than they would have if they they had waited fir aid from the US or worst, couldn’t do a thing without the permission of the US. The US interest in South America may have been 90% altruistic, but the other 10% was baldly tilted in favor of US interests. The people of South America were more interested in 100% of their economies if at least their particular class and clan within their nations.
I’ll be writing about our garden very soon, but the single message it gives me is that abundance can happen when you allow it to. Just set up a spot of bare earth, and you’ll soon have a profusion of weeds. If you choose hardy enough plats to put in that garden, they can hold their own as part of that mix. If some species get in there, like Multiflora Rose, Kudzu, or Mile-a-Minute Vine, they leave your garden relatively barren, but just as green. If you tweak the rules, by weeding or fertilizing, you will get a different mix of pants you want and plants you don’t want based on their ability to use the new regime.
Transportation is this way too. We have measured and managed for one thing, traffic, for the better part of a century, and we have got exactly what we asked for. Its actually surprising that traffic accounts for only 80% of trips, given the way we’ve been building to make “urban” landscapes that require traffic to use at all. Who walks to the shopping mall to walk in the shopping mall? Who lives close enough to their subdivision gates to walk to the diner in the morning?
Underneath this, however, has been the unmanaged act of walking, and even biking. About 18% of trips are on foot after all. If wee look at the many trips less than a mile, walking actually accounts for more than half of the trips in the US. This is a recent development, only partially ushered by our 25 year program in federal funding of waking infrastructure. Of walk share to schools is still an embarrassment. We still fund sidewalk maintenance like we funded road building in the 1850s. But despite this, American are rediscovering walking.
Biking too, though the change from 0.7% to 1% of trips in the last ten years could be a survey or rounding error, it represents a 30% increase at face value. Compare this with a 2% decline for traffic trips in the same period. From my long-forgotten time without a driver’s license, living in the bikable core of Atlanta, biking confers tremendous advantages over traffic, if you are built for it. The only way to get built for it is to do it, a lot. Much like the best predictor of bike safety is lots of bikers. A vicious circle against can become a virtuous circle for, through millions of decisions every day. That is not the sort of thing that get centrally measured and managed, The best policy wonks like me can hope for is a nudge.