Monday, February 9, 2009

Americans - Whimpering Puppies

So Pew did some research [HT to McCready for sending me this article] on where people would like to live vs. where they actually do. Since people are stupid, I'll trust Chris Leinberger when he cites the statistic referenced in his latest book that only 3% of people live in walkable urbanism while 30% wish to.

I'm guessing it was a better done poll than merely asking the questions of lay people because we end up with answers like this:



Now let's shrink "Small Town" and "City" to a fraction of these numbers and throw all that into suburbia. I'm confident based on personal experience administering visual preference surveys that this is how Leinberger went about his research...or maybe not, because 30% actually seems low. In every case, the more walkable built version wins in popular vote. 30% seems low to me, but it is still effective b/c of the pent up demand between those two numbers.

The problem is that people don't see the better version. They don't know it exists. The average American is like the puppy on the electrified flooring in the experiment I read about in Psychology class in college (why this has stuck with me so long, I don't know). As animals, we learn to accept a certain environment no matter how shitty which is how markets can become so skewed when there lacks proper choice.
In part one of Seligman and Steve Maier's experiment, three groups of dogs were placed in harnesses. Group One dogs were simply put in the harnesses for a period of time and later released. Groups Two and Three consisted of "yoked pairs." A dog in Group 2 would be intentionally subjected to pain by being given electric shocks, which the dog could end by pressing a lever. A Group 3 dog was wired in parallel with a Group 2 dog, receiving shocks of identical intensity and duration, but his lever didn't stop the electric shocks. To a dog in Group 3, it seemed that the shock ended at random, because it was his paired dog in Group 2 that was causing it to stop. For Group 3 dogs, the shock was apparently "inescapable." Group 1 and Group 2 dogs quickly recovered from the experience, but Group 3 dogs learned to be helpless, and exhibited symptoms similar to chronic clinical depression.
More interestingly (to me) is this statistic:
Americans are all over the map in their views about their ideal community type: 30% say they would most like to live in a small town, 25% in a suburb, 23% in a city and 21% in a rural area.
Doesn't seem all over the map to me, seems more like a continuum...or a transect:



But, of course we've only built in the T3: Suburban model, not the full range offering appropriate choice, as seen in this post on Valencia, Spain.

In other news, it is amazing how low these numbers are. Nobody wants to live in the modern American city (in its current form). Maybe we should start looking to Copenhagen, where the people are the happiest (and most well educated) in the world.