We suffer from many hard collective action problems whose solution requires coordination across local, regional, national and international actors.
For example, there is no individual person I can yell at to fix:
- climate change
- income & wealth inequality
- daylight savings time
- to say nothing of public transit, affordable housing, police brutality, truth and reconciliation, and so on.
No individual elected representative of mine can take a single vote, on a singular legislative item, that will meaningfully address any of these problems in one fell swoop. Life is hard. Working on these problems is many lifetimes of effort.
That said, I have extremely good news I would like to share with you.
There is one problem that we suffer from, a problem that stares us in the face every day. A problem that kills people all the time. A problem that horrifically maims innocent children on a near-daily basis. And, it is a problem which, in fact, an individual elected representative of mine could meaningfully address, in a single vote on a singular legislative item.
That problem is traffic safety.
Unlike housing or wealth inequality or climate change, traffic safety is actually almost entirely in control of my local municipality. My city councillor doesn’t have jurisdiction over air pollution, or carbon taxes, or whether we roll back the clocks. But the city of Toronto does have jurisdiction over how my local roads are designed and built.
A single dinner party’s worth of people could, with a single vote:
- create a new, default, standard for road and street design which prioritizes pedestrian safety, and which is applied to all new future road works across the city
- immediately begin adding new bike lanes, reducing road widths, adding speed bumps, and even close roads off to cars altogether where possible
- dramatically make new and substantial progress and change the city for the better, for decades to come.
It would barely cost any money up front, and it would save tons of money in the long run. It would save scores of lives, whether killed outright or forever altered by terrible injuries. It would reduce pollution. It would improve the quality of our lives. It would make a small dent towards ameliorating climate change.
So, why can’t we make progress on that front? What could we change? What if we took this challenge seriously? City council recently got cut down to 26 people. You only need 14 people to say yes.
I think the reason is we’ve forgotten how to ask. I think we’ve forgotten how to make some noise. I think we’ve forgotten how to get real fucking inconvenient. I think we’ve forgotten how to imagine the future we deserve.
I think if we talk to our neighbours, if we get a little organized, if we start blocking streets during rush hour, if we make a big fucking fuss about it, I think we could make some progress.
All in all, I feel optimistic. This is great news. There is a terrible problem that you can help improve dramatically if you yell at a single person, over and over again.
In this day and age, how wonderful is that?