Are Urbanists Too Grumpy?

I am excited to announce that I am a new father to two twin baby boys. As a result, I have had some (sleepless) time to step back from my work and this blog and take a look at my personal life.

One conclusion that I reached in my foggy newborn haze was that I may have become grumpier throughout my exploration of urban issues. There is nothing like two beautiful babies to give you some perspective, but I wanted to explore the grumpiness, because I think it is a trap that a lot of people who care about urban issues fall into.

It makes sense. The more you learn about zoning, the financial incentives in the urban world, NIMBYism, sprawl, and car-centric patterns of development, the easier it is to pooh-pooh all the people and systems, past and present, that perpetuate those problems. It is also human nature to assume that I now have the "solutions" and if people would just listen to me, the city would start to get better.

Combine that thinking with the realization that I can't wave a magic wand and make changes and that the majority of people will oppose my views due to the simple fact that the status quo is safe and comfortable, and it is easy to see how urbanists can get grumpy.

However, if that grumpiness metastasizes, three things may happen. One, I might not be as open to new ideas, thinking that I have to always be on the defensive with the ideas that I hold. Two, I may lose sight of small steps, loopholes, and compromises that can be incremental improvements. Three, I run the risk of bringing that grumpiness home to my family.

Of course, some grumpiness has its place. It is important to advocate for improvements. But I have found that among my urbanist colleagues, there is a rash of over-grumpiness. I wonder if we can strike a better balance and "attract more flies with honey than with vinegar".

When people get grumpy and dig their heels in, the opposition gets defensive and consensus becomes less likely. I clearly have not found the right balance, but I would love to hear thoughts on the right way to approach urban advocacy.

Come share your comments here in the forum!

Check out the Forum!

To engage with other Durham enthusiasts, visit the forums here!

Popular Posts