The Next City
September 1, 1995
Cities, if allowed to develop by themselves, directed not by planners and politicians but by the individual decisions of its citizens, both as producers who dream of better ways to serve their fellow residents, and as consumers who seek out the best ways to be served, would tend to increase their densities, perhaps by the 50 per cent that Manhattan has lost: Most people have always gravitated to the excitement of high-density cities, despite the obstacles politicians such as Boss Tweed so often put in their place.
Public transit has never been as deregulated, in any major city anywhere in the world, as it is today in the cities of the United Kingdom. The stage is set for a rematch in the battle between cars and transit, only this time the competitors will be playing by the same rule books: Both will be paying for the use they make of roads, both will be free to compete for the hearts of their customers.
The auto industry will be a tough and unrelenting competitor: The variety available in vehicles is spreading to gas stations, where Mobil Oil has begun providing upscale service for the 80 per cent of drivers who aren’t price shoppers. At some stations, uniformed concierge-attendants rush coffee or cappuccino to waiting drivers; one dealer puts a red carpet, plants and mirrors in his station’s bathroom.
But if the fight is fair, the automobile will lose much of its urban market: When the choice is between juggling a cappuccino in a disposable cup behind the wheel of a car, and leisurely sipping it from china in a VIP car, after a shoulder massage has taken away those aches from the pressures of the day, the direction in which a fully competitive transportation system for cities would take us is clear.