by Rustin Wright.
Daviesville is a midsized city surrounded by small towns and farmland. It’s about a hundred years old. Cold winters. Hot summers. Pretty much middle class enough. Back in the late 1800’s it had a cute little trolley but nobody really thinks of that as anything but a curiosity. Like barber shop quartets and Worth ballgowns. The city also expanded swiftly in the nineteen-fities through the seventies, deeply entranced with the idea of the car but low enough on capital to, thankfully, never really build the kind of loopy, impassable-right-of-way sprawl which now hobbles so many other places.
In 2003 a citizen’s group starts to agitate for Daviesville to finally build a mass transit network. The population is aging, the local highway system isn’t that great anyway, and since the terrible earthquake of ’98 there has been an obvious need to rethink how the city works. Daviesville is also a city of small manufacturers and used to the idea that people should be able to develop a competency, figure something out, and build it for themselves. Call it the Show Me City.
So this citizen’s group starts to argue. What should they build? The vague ideas that they have don’t seem to add up to anything very coherent. After a couple of years of this they realze that they’re not really getting anywhere. So they start to look around. Surely there are thousands of people out there who are experts in using all of these modern technologies that the factories of Daviesville use every day. To use those same things, like modern adhesives and flexible plastics, to build diverse, modern mass transit.
Instead they find a handful of manufacturers, all of them with defense contractor mentalities. All of them thinking in terms of cost-plus construction, building not for best function but for what sounds best in a proposal and is best for the careers of the people making the decisions.
After a while they reach a shocking conclusion.
Almost every high school in America teaches at least one class in how to build, modify, and run automobiles. Something like three thousand colleges teach classes in the same. Countless tens of millions of people are happily experimenting and puzzling and connecting with each other every day of the year working to make cars better, more fun, less expensive, and suited to every possible job, budget, style, or means of manufacture. Meanwhile the number of high schools teahcing how to innovate and experiment with mass transit vehicles is‚Ä¶zero. The number of colleges? Maybe fifteen. All oriented towards training their graduates the conservative mindset of those defence contractor-style billion dollar corporations. The number of backyard experimenters? Maybe fifty in the entire United States.
So the first step is not to decide what to build. It is to realize that we have absolutely no idea of what is even possible.