I’ve written about this before, but I love love looove it, so I’m pointing to another story on it (also via Shea):

European traffic planners are dreaming of streets free of rules and directives. They want drivers and pedestrians to interact in a free and humane way, as brethren — by means of friendly gestures, nods of the head and eye contact, without the harassment of prohibitions, restrictions and warning signs.

"The many rules strip us of the most important thing: the ability to be considerate. We’re losing our capacity for socially responsible behavior," says Dutch traffic guru Hans Monderman, one of the project’s co-founders. "The greater the number of prescriptions, the more people’s sense of personal responsibility dwindles."

Psychologists have long revealed the senselessness of such exaggerated regulation. About 70 percent of traffic signs are ignored by drivers. What’s more, the glut of prohibitions is tantamount to treating the driver like a child and it also foments resentment. …

The result is that drivers find themselves enclosed by a corset of prescriptions, so that they develop a kind of tunnel vision: They’re constantly in search of their own advantage, and their good manners go out the window.

The new traffic model’s advocates believe the only way out of this vicious circle is to give drivers more liberty and encourage them to take responsibility for themselves.

Read the whole thing — where it’s being tried, it’s working.

Inside all of us, stronger in some than in others, is an authoritarian instinct. It tells us that we must assert control, that if people are allowed to just … do whatever they want, chaos will ensue. It will be a state of nature, red in tooth and claw. Only strict rules of religion and bureaucracy, with the attendant fear of enforcement, restrain us from brutality.

That turns out to be wrong, I think. Rules, and authoritarian Gods/police to enforce them, reduce our sense of care and responsibility toward one another. They infantilize us.

The message here is relevant for everyone involved in urban planning (or, um, relating to other human beings): If treated like responsible, autonomous beings, people are fundamentally decent to one another. It’s when they’re distanced, dehumanized, and regulated that they become cruel.