I don't even know where to begin to talk about my trip. First there are the ring systems of Vienna and Budapest that I want to write about, I've got about 200 pictures to share and as I hopped on BART today to get home from the SF Airport I was more than just a little bit disappointed about transit efforts in the United States. As I get my bearings and overcome some jet lag I'll try to write up some of my experiences. Sitting at a bar with an Austrian named Mike, almost dieing on the faster than American laws would allow escalators on the Budapest Metro, and the legacy of eastern bloc communism in Budapest and Prague.
I would however like to share something I wrote up on the plane ride over to Vienna...
I’m sitting here on a KLM flight to Amsterdam then to Vienna Austria for vacation with my family in Eastern Europe. The seat to my left is empty and the movie Oceans 13 just finished but I noticed something so true. Earlier there was a man sitting next to me from Visalia. It’s a small town in Central California where agriculture is the lifeblood of the community. Earlier I overheard him talking to the man on his left from Stockton, which is quickly becoming a bedroom community for the Bay Area. He asked what he did for a living and the man replied “I’m a developer”.
Now I’m not usually one to listen in but of course being an urban planner I had to hear what was coming next. The man from Visalia was uncomfortable in his seat being about 6’4” or so. Of course these planes are more like cattle cars than luxurious transportation but his knees were sitting in the cracks of the seats in front of us and his elbow was in my ribs. But he continued cheerily talking asking the developer, if there was any more room to build in Stockton because of the disappearance of farmland. The man from Visalia asked, “Why don’t you build up instead of out?” The developer replied, “There is plenty of land left to build on.” Under my breath I said “Yeah right” realizing what kind of developer he was.
The man from Visalia kept going on about resources and conservation and even ended up discussing taking vegetable oil from fast food restaurants for reuse. He then moved on to me asking what I did. I said “I’m an urban planner.” He seemed surprised. “That guy next to me is a developer.” I nodded and said “Yes I heard.” He asked what I did specifically and I told him. He then went on to discuss his former job as a parole officer and the travesty of the red car. “The Mayor was a crook” he said. “Ripping out all those streetcars.” People I talk to always seem launch into the benefits of transit without provocation. I never prodded him or even told him about my thoughts on the subject but he told me about it anyways. He was around for the red car and seemed specifically upset about their demise. “You’d never be able to build it back today” he said. I told him they were trying.
Throughout the flight he kept getting hit in the knees by the lady in front of us who tried to lean her seat back. He had to protest each time which led him to ask to move seats. The flight attendant was more than happy to help him out so he was out of there leaving me and the developer an empty seat between us. As we both put our stuff on the tray table where the man from Visalia was sitting I noticed the book he put down juxtaposed with the one that I put down. His was a hardcover deep crimson red book titled “Empire”. Mine was a softcover book by Jared Diamond called Collapse about the collapse of several civilizations throughout history by climate change among a number of other factors including war and societal suicide (ie: Easter Island). It really stuck in my head the difference between the two sets of warring factions in the sprawl fight. The ones who think there are endless spoils to be had and a never ending supply of resources, and those who are looking to avoid a collapse. I’ve never seen the fight in such black/white or good/evil terms and probably will never again because of course it is never so simple. I’m not a hardcore environmentalist or anything but for a moment there I realized why I do what I do.