Eight bombings in two weeks and the accidental shooting death of a suspect have everyone talking war on terror again. Not to detract from that conversation, but there’s a distinctly “green” concern here — the bombings are serving as a serious deterrent to mass transit use. There are two separate but related deterrents:

  • The fear of being on a bus, subway, or train that is attacked, and
  • the inconvenience of added security to get on said bus, subway, or train (like what New Yorkers are now experiencing).

Mass transit is essential to creating walkable neighborhoods with clean, efficient, affordable transportation for their denizens. It won’t survive if people that would have otherwise used it no longer will because they are afraid of an attack, or they would rather not have their privacy invaded.

The security measures in New York are ostensibly supposed to deter another attack, but actually only serve to reassure mass transit riders, as many New Yorkers have pointed out. (Here’s a question — if the people who are supposed to be reassured are all pointing out the flaws in the system, is it really reassuring to them?)The fact is that no security measure can prevent all terrorist attacks, short of searching everyone that wants to enter a location where there’s a high density of people — in other words, any major urban area.

One reaction to this tough situation has been to look at the terrorist threat from a city planning level. But should we really plan entire cities and regions with terrorist threats in mind? No. We couldn’t even if we wanted to, the task is so unimaginably huge. The attacks this summer have demonstrated that even London’s “Ring of Steel” is not impregnable.

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Another reaction is to look at the threat individually — and get out of the city entirely. Joel Kotkin of the Washington Post cites this “fear factor” as a possible contributor to urban flight. With urban flight comes sprawl and decentralization, increased impact of living, and increased use of gasoline (at least the way suburbs are planned now).

If the benefits of city living (walkability, low per capita environmental impact, etc.) are going to continue into the future, one of two things will happen. Either the perception of the terrorist threat will become more rational and in line with the other day-to-day threats, or said benefits will be extended outside of the urban core and into a more decentralized metropolitan area.

(Sorry, Clark, didn’t mean to hit a similar topic. I’ve been offline writing this for the last hour or so.)

Update [2005-7-26 3:46:38 by Andy Brett]: The New York Times editorial board this morning calls for the searches to be extended beyond the few weeks that they are likely to continue. Ignoring the most important points in the letters printed on the same page, they tell us we should be “relieved” to see such measures. Looks like they prefer the decentralized metropolitan area technique instead of rational perception of the threat.

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