What Drives Cities

at 11:43 PM

Last week an online financial services company released a ranking of America's largest 100 cities according to how friendly they are to drivers. Oakland, San Jose and San Francisco ranked 85th, 86th and 97th, respectively. The best city for drivers? Lubbock, Texas.

So-called studies like this are really just ways for companies to get press, a tool this company in particular, which I won't name, uses frequently. And it works. The driver-friendliness ranking was dutifully picked up by media here in the Bay Area and all over the country.

The problem isn't so much that people took the bait and plastered this company's name everywhere. It's that so many of them did so uncritically. They didn't bother to question whether being hospitable to cars is something a city should want to be.

For more than a half-century, Americans built our cities around the assumption that moving cars -- that is, being friendly to drivers -- was the best way make those cities work. But we know better now. Planners and policymakers in at least some places know that the strength of a city is not determined solely by what its cars can do. Cities are made of people, most of whom spend most of their time not in a car. And even those of us -- like me -- who drive frequently can understand that getting to my destination a littler earlier or a little more cheaply probably won't make our cities more vibrant, or more interesting, or more alive. The opposite, in fact. Cars kill cities and the people they're made of.

So, to the company that shall not be named, mission accomplished. You got a bunch of press.

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I almost feel sorry for them, though, because this company is based in Washington, DC, which ranks 99th on their car-friendly list, even worse than San Francisco. Maybe they should pack it up and move to Lubbock. I hear the driving there is great.

With a Perspective, I'm Brock Winstead.

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Brock Winstead is an Oakland-based writer and podcast producer who hosts an online public affairs program focused on the East Bay.

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