We are more than our trip generation: urbanism and the dignity of the human person

It is easy to begin to think of other people as burdens. Our society that so values individual freedoms does not like to be tied down. You hear it when people talk of children, or the elderly or disabled. 

Why would you want to have another child? Don’t you want to be free to pursue your career? Why would you want to take in an aging relative? Why would you want a child with special needs? Don’t you want to be able to do what you want?

Freedom is more than the ability to choose to do what we like. Freedom is the ability to choose the good.

Freedom is not about not having anybody to tie us down, but about loving fully. The most important thing we are called to do is love.

We are all connected. We all have parents. We all have (or had) friends and mentors. All people have dignity imparted to them at the moment of creation by the creator who loves them. This dignity does not depend on what someone can do for society, it is inherent in being human.

Our actions impact our society and the land where we live. None of us have the ability to do what we wish. We are all constrained. Yet we all can seek freedom. We can all choose the good.

Which brings me to the new burdens on society: newcomers and their trip generation.

As car-dependent regions grow, new people bring their cars, and traffic gets heavier. Parking gets scarcer. Eventually the residents cry “enough!” and start to oppose any new development. This is understandable, if unacceptable. More cars interfere with free-flowing driving and abundant parking, and if that is what one expects, then of course keeping people out is the obvious answer.

We’ve said before that in driving, those outside one’s car cease to be people. This is the end result: people aren’t people, but car trips.

Seeing people solely as car trips does not respect their inherent dignity as people. Housing is a basic human need and right, and it is better for everybody if that housing does not involve a lengthy driving trip from the hinterlands. It is better for the individual, as lengthy commutes have health impacts. It is better for the family, so that children can have more time with their parents and less time sitting in the car. It is better for the community, as less driving means less congestion. It is better for the planet, as less driving means less carbon output.

These trip generators are people: people with families, hobbies, interests, needs. Thy are not burdens to be eliminated.

Driving is the most inefficient means of transport we have, and as development gets denser, we run out of space for cars. The problem is not that there are too many people, but that there are too many cars.

How can we expect people to get around without a car, if the walkable neighborhoods have only single-family detached housing? Only a lucky few who happen to be very well employed or bought in early will get to live in the walkable neighborhood, and the rest will be driving in from the hinterlands.

We cannot call ourselves an inclusive community if we do not welcome all of those who want to live there. How can we welcome refugees, if there is no affordable housing?

Welcome new neighbors. Welcome density. We are more than our trip generation.

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