"The building of railways seems to be a simple, natural, democratic, cultural and civilising enterprise; that is what it is in the opinion of the bourgeois professors who are paid to depict capitalist slavery in bright colours, and in the opinion of petty-bourgeois philistines."
--Lenin, "Imperialism, the Highest Stage of Capitalism," Preface to the French and German Editions.
I have a friend who hates light rail. He sees it as a tool for gentrification, and a plaything of the wealthy. Shiny toy trains for people too proud to ride the bus, that run through nicer neighborhoods, causing a thousand condos to flower in their wake, blossoming up like techno-sequoias filled with yuppies.
Well, he's not wrong. Light rail is all of those things. It's a big tool for capitalism and development But is it something else too? I just wrote an email about it, and I'd be curious to know what you think...
Nice quote. I think Vladimir is talking about rail barons? Well, streetcar systems were also private enterprises funded by 'rail barons' (in Mpls, it was a guy named Lowry) and used as development tools to grow the city and make a killing off real estate. But I'd certainly not condemn them just for that reason. After the fact, weren't streetcars still a good public transit system? Didn't they still serve as a more equitable, and green, form of transportation?
LRT is, just like any transportation project, an opportunity for capital to organize itself. in way way, LRT is simply more comfortable transit. (that's the main reason white people like them.) At another level, LRT looks a lot like a rail baron situation. It's a tool for developers to make money, cities to increase their tax base, politicians to cut ribbons and give jobs to construction firms, lots of planners to earn livings, etc.
In all of those ways, though, they are no different than freeway projects. in fact, the only way that they are different from freeway projects is that they are (or have the potential to be) more energy efficient, and that they tend to create development within cities that have more economic and other kinds of diversity as opposed to in the middle of nowhere. When you build a freeway in the middle of nowhere, you build a lot of new, typically (income) segregated areas in the middle of nowhere. When you build a LRT through a city, you're usually encouraging capital investment to occur in already-exiting places. at a certain level, I think the gentrification debate is, or should be, a debate over the right to housing. sometimes I wonder why we target the idea of wealthy people living in cities when the goal should be to make sure the working class has a decent place to live.
Its not that I don't see the argument that it is just another bourgeious subsidy. rather, it seems to me a smarter bourgeious subsidy than most of them. Compared to the amount of money spent on, for only one example, the mortgage interest tax deduction, which only goes to homeowners (e.g. the rich half of the US) and encourages them to build even larger homes, money spent on rail is hardly the battle I would choose to fight.
I sometimes wonder about whether movement and capitalism are intertwined. can we think of the circulation of value without thinking of the circulation of people or goods? Is capital growth necessarily spatial? Is the very idea of transportation and movement the problem?
One of the reasons i am studying walking is that it seems to escape from some of these binds. The only people that make money off of pedestrians are the manufacturers of sneakers. umbrellas, and handbags.