So I have been encountering this meme on Facebook:
One of my favorite rejoinders comes from Eddie Izzard:
The difference in these perspectives is important to planning and urban design; one perspective places human agency and choice at the center of the negative social consequences. The latter recognizes that the human capacity to develop tools and the resulting material culture changes human agency in important ways. It can magnify or alter that choice. If you drink too much, you will be a drunk, but having seven liquor stores stocked with $3 bottles of T-bird within stumbling distance changes the opportunities you have to act on your agency. Pencils, print, and other tools have changed human society and individual lives, just like computers have. People with pencils misspell words, indeed, and some of it is their fault, but the fact they are writing and literate at all has something to do with the mass availability of pencils as material good.
My peace-loving, easy-going husband routinely shocks me when we are watching a movie by telling me that the guns or the halberds or the long-bows or whatever weapon employed are anachronisms. “How can you possibly know this?” I ask. “I’m a military history guy.” He says. “Just about every new weapon changes war. You can’t understand war unless you understand technology.”
And yet one reason I tend to get grumpy with our New Urbanist friends is that many assume that design will ‘make’ people do things. It will make them walk, make them socialize, make them have more incidental contact with strangers (thus making them more cosmopolitan). It’s better to suggest that design can make the opportunity for people to do things, and some people, when the opportunity manifests, will walk more, socialize, and perhaps become more cosmopolitan.
Just like some, when given access to guns, will do nothing with them, and other people will.