Our Top Ten Scariest Things In Urbanism This Halloween
Here in Michigan, it’s a rainy Halloween, a.k.a. my wife’s equivalent of Christmas, and we’ve been thinking about ten things that are spookier than the scariest horror film or costume. While this post is set up to sound lighthearted and may have some elements of levity, these things are genuinely frightening, so I’ll apologize if I faked you out with the title. Here they are!
The Top Ten Scares This Halloween
10. Halloween is the deadliest night of the year for pedestrian fatalities. This is a well-established phenomenon. People wearing dark costumes, revelers drinking (and driving), and, generally, cars being lethal machinery operating with relatively limited restrictions. On Halloween in particular, a disproportionate number of children are killed. If you go out, please be careful. Also, please get involved in advocacy to improve pedestrian safety, pedestrian and bike infrastructure, and to implement traffic calming measures in your neighborhood! Or read about things you can do– Angie Schmitt wrote a great book on it (just so long as you don’t buy into her parallel politics of encouraging right-wing antivaxxers– we’re allowed to be complicated, right?).
9. The Itaetwon tragedy in Seoul, in which more than 150 people were killed. The young Halloween revelers in the South Korean city were caught in a crowd crush. Tragedies of this magnitude are quite rare in the developed world, where safety regulations are often well-developed and fairly well-respected. It’s a reminder of how we should always be paying attention to things like egress, emergency planning, and accessibility.
8. The Fossil Fuel Crunch. It’s not an energy crisis, it’s a fossil fuel crisis! The war in Ukraine has prompted major shakeups of global oil markets. Still, Big Oil– and OPEC, for that matter- have noticed that Americans are still addicted to dinosaur goop, so they have enjoyed high prices– and avoided investing in new production or exploration. It’s a great excuse to decarbonize! But in the meantime, it’s scary to think about fuel prices this winter, especially for those of us with a 78 AFUE steam boiler that was installed circa 1988. Yikes. Anyway, your illuminated pumpkins will probably not provide enough heat from a couple of tealights this Halloween. But a heat pump might!
7. State Departments of Transportation driving climate change through highway expansion. Someone pointed this out on Twitter recently and I haven’t stopped thinking about it. The USDOT has floated new rules to force state DOTs to take climate change into account. It’s not clear at this moment where this conversation has landed. Critics have noted that the rule might run afoul of the recent Supreme Court ruling limiting the EPAs power in regulating carbon dioxide. (Of course, this wouldn’t have been a SCOTUS ruling had the Senate not voted to confirm justices who perjured themselves during their confirmation hearings. But that’s another story altogether!). You could put together a great state DOT road engineer costume for Halloween– just dress up as a zombie.
6. Driving in Detroit. A friend recently visited from Calgary. We drove around downtown on a Saturday night, and she asked me, while watching a Dodge Charger blow a solid red light to get onto the Lodge from Jefferson, if it was normal that people in Detroit treated stop lights as yield signs. “Oh, yeah,” I said, “it’s really just a suggestion.” It’s as much as suburban thing as an urban thing, but Detroit’s lower density of funding (given its low population density) means that it’s got far less enforcement of traffic laws– plus extra-wide streets to help criminal drivers justify speeding and driving like, well, crazy people. On the flip side, one of our local side streets just got speed bumps installed! We are maybe making progress. Maybe.w
5. The vast and unchecked power of really powerful, really rich people over information systems. I am impressed that worse things have not happened with the newspaper since Jeff Bezos bought the Washington Post. But it’s a troubling thing to imagine the wealthiest people in the world controlling a limited number of media platforms. Elon Musk’s closure of the deal to buy Twitter– mostly because he’s an insufferable, petulant douchebag who needed to save face after writing a bunch of snarky tweets about buying Twitter, not because he actually wanted to buy Twitter- is troubling for a number of reasons. The world’s wealthiest baby daddy— the white Nick Cannon, if you will- has already tweeted a horrific conspiracy theory in response to a comment by Hillary Clinton condemning the brutal attack on Nancy Pelosi’s husband in her San Francisco mansion. Political violence is increasing in this country– no thanks to the spread of vile conspiracy theories, especially on an increasingly limited number of platforms controlled by an increasingly limited pool of rich people. Fight this by supporting independent journalism!
4. Climate change, generally. I have a bunch of articles coming out about this by way of Florida– in particular, a region that is an exemplar of how not to do urban planning in the age of climate change and hurricanes. Like Hurricane Ian. To be clear, I don’t literally lose sleep over climate change. I also have a lot of faith in markets and market transformation. But markets, like history, sometimes need a push. And I am concerned that with things like a supposedly progressive governor who wants to invest in little other than The Supreme Reign of the Motorcar, that we’re not moving anywhere near as fast as we should be. Anyway, more on this soon.
3. The threat of reproductive rights being taken away by state legislatures and executives around the country. The overturning of Roe v. Wade by the conservative majority on the Supreme Court– by way of new appointees Amy Coney Barrett, Neil Gorsuch, and Brett “I Liked Beer– I Still Like Beer” Kavanaugh- criminalized abortion overnight in a number of states. Proposal 3 in Michigan will codify reproductive rights in our hideously purple state. Please vote for it.
2. The potential failure of transit referenda at the ballot box. This is notably on the ballot in Oakland County, Michigan. It’s unclear whether it will pass, because we have folks like Novi mayor pro tem Dave Staudt and neo-Nazi Shane Trejo fighting tooth and nail against it in the name of Freedom and Why Can’t Everyone Just Take Uber Instead and Did You Know That They Cover The Windows Of These Buses To Stop You From Seeing How Empty They Are. So, please vote yes for transit! And, the spookiest potential thing we’re thinking about this Halloween? Last, but not least:
1. Apathy– toward a world, and discourse in it, that feels like it’s falling apart more and more every day. As far as discourse, it’s always vital that we engage with people who might not necessarily believe the same things that we do. Or, they might believe the same things, but they might come to completely different conclusions based on asymmetrical information (or bizarre dogma, who knows). Let’s remember what we’re fighting for. And let’s be safe in doing it, whether on Halloween or on any other night of the year. (Thanks to Noah Balanda for this one!)