Transportation and Social Justice, Part II

According to the March 2011 report released by The Leadership Conference Education Fund, “Where We Need to Go: A Civil Rights Roadmap for Transportation Equality” , transportation truly is a civil rights issue. Here are some salient points taken from this report:

  • Average cost of owning a car: $9498
  • 33%: Low income African-Americans without access to a car
  • 25%: Low income Latinos without access to a car
  • 12.1%: Low income Whites without access to a car
  • 80%: Portion of federal transportation money dedicated to maintaining highways
  • Americans in the lowest 20% income bracket spend 42% of their income on maintaining automobiles compared to middle-class Americans, who spend 22% of their income on maintaining automobiles.
  • “One survey found that 4% of U.S. children (totalling 3.2m) missed a scheduled healthcare appointment due to lack of transportation.”
  • Racial minorities are 4x more likely than Whites to rely on public transportation to get to work.
  • NYC residents earning less than $35K/year are 11x more likely to have commutes over one hour as compared to residents earning over $75K.
  • Black NYC residents’ commute times are 25% longer than their white counterparts, and Hispanics’ commutes are 12% longer.
  • People who live in neighborhoods with plentiful transit options (access to bus routes and subways) spend just 9% of their income on transportation as compared to 19% average for Americans.
  • People who live in car-dependant suburbs spend 25% of their income on transportation.

This paints a stark picture of inequality.

Critical Question: 

1. Is this truly a civil rights issue, or an issue where people have the freedom to choose where to live?

2. How can tranportation issues for the nation’s poorest Americans be fixed?

3. Does this create a cycle of dependency on low-income jobs? If so, how can this be reversed?

4. What examples of excellent urban planning are trying to fix this problem in the United States?

Transportation and Social Justice

Think of all the things you can do if you can drive. You can go out with your friends, you can work, and you can travel freely on your own. Americans take driving for granted. The personal automobile has shaped our nation in a way that is unique. The wide-open spaces in America, the sprawling suburbs…these have all been created by the automobile.

Henry Ford’s goal was to make the car affordable for everyone, and that he did. In Europe, trains and public transportation define most cities. In most of America, if you do not have a car, you are at a disadvantage in terms of securing work and having the same freedoms as the rest of your peers. I waitressed my way through college in Rochester, New York, a city not known for it’s kind weather. If I worked an early shift, I could catch the 1:07 bus up East Henrietta Rd up to the mall. If I got out late, I walked the near five miles home. It took about an hour. Think of a mother trying to get home to her kids, or a person trying to get extra hours–if you spend you time waiting for busses, transferring, and walking, it’s difficult to get other things done.

Additionally, if you study bus routes in most non-commuter cities, they don’t go directly from place to place. In a commuter city like New York City or Boston, it’s easy to live life without a driver’s license.  In Providence–not so much. You will lose economic opportunities.

Now, think of not being able to drive. What would that do to your sense of freedom, your ability to make a higher-level living, and your ability to move your family around from place to place. When I was growing up, for years we only had one car for the family. If something so small as grocery shopping came up or one of us had to go to the doctors, my mother had to ask a friend with a car to do her a favor or wait until my father was home from work. This severely impacted her independence.

Think further. What if, by law, you were not able to drive. What if the government said, just based on your gender, you should not.

That is the case in Saudi Arabia. While there is no law stating women cannot drive, it is a custom, and women can be detained, harassed, or lose their jobs for driving. It’s simply not done.

We’ll be discussing several freedoms that involve the issue of transportation and mobility, and how such things change our opportunities in life.

The first will be the heroics of Manal al-Sharif. Watch her TEDx talk on this Learnist board: “Driving Men Crazy in Saudi Arabia”    Do not miss Learning #4 by Saudi comedian, musician, and social rights activist Hisham Fageeh. It’s a winner.

Can the Trees Talk?

Watching “The Happening” brought up some great conversation about the viability of the plot–can plants attack humans on a grand scale? We’ll look further into that, but they may be able communicate. Scientists feel that the chemistry between plants, root networks, and fungi may, in fact, promote communication in much the same way that neurons promote communication in parts of the human brain. This is much like the biochemical networks in forestry. This is why our forest practices need to pay attention to the ecosystem of the forest, which requires older trees to give resources to the rest of the forest. Instead, humans “cut them down for two-by-fours.”

Could the plants and trees be telling us something? What do you think? Watch this short video and weigh in the comments.

The Language of Observation, Analysis, and Interpretation

“God gave us only one mouth and two eyes and ears so we can listen and watch twice as much as we speak.”

I’m not sure of the origin of that quote, but it’s the mathematical truth. There are a lot of times in life when we fail to really observe. You might say, “Casey, this is a social studies lesson, not philosophy class.” True. But what if I asked you a couple questions?

Lets start off with “Has anyone ever given you the look?” I’ll say yes, because I’ve broken up fights about the look. What if you knew that person wasn’t looking at you but had some family problem? Would it change your reaction? Maybe?

Have you ever watched the news and said, “That’s the dumbest political problem…ever. They should just….” It’s easy to be an armchair quarterback when looking at the problems of others. Everyone else’s problems always seem so….solvable.

The Language of Observation: 

Using the language of observation helps us to get to a deeper level of learning. Use words like, “I see…I observe…I notice…I can identify…I discern…I detect…I recognize…I can locate… helps us to pin down things we can quantify or scientifically study.

The Language of Analysis:

Take this one step further. We can observe, but when we really look deep, we are analyzing. Analyzing is important, because it helps us pick up patterns. We need to see what’s right about a situation and what is unique. We infer meaning and we look for cause and effect.  Using the following sentence patterns help us to dig in and analyze:

  • This reveals…
  • This evokes…
  • This shows…
  • This contradicts…
  • This symbolizes…
  • This stands for…
  • This means…
  • This corresponds to…
  • This demonstrates…
  • This illustrates…

Find a couple more “Analysis phrases.”

The Language of Interpretation: 

Finally, after we’ve observed and analyzed, it’s time to interpret. That’s where you take all the genius inside you and make something happen. Most people want to be told what to think. It’s true–watch the TV news. They’ll tell you what happened in the world and they’ll tell you what you thought about it, if you listen closely enough. That’s tragic. The truth is, if you observe and analyze enough, and you use the language of interpretation, you have the inner expert the world needs. YOU can be the one that makes the call and provides the expert opinion. That’s what we’re trying to arrive at here!

Things like: “Therefore…” “We can conclude…” “This tells us…” are part of the language of interpretation.

Let’s look through a couple of images and see if we can observe.


Choose from the following photo essays. Analyze three photographs using the following format:

Photo essay on the Depression

Photo essay of 9-11

Photo essay of Hurricane Sandy

Photo essay AIDS in Africa

1. Observation: In this photograph I observed… (use at least three words of observation…)

2. Analysis: (use at least three words of analysis)

3. Interpretation: (use at least three words of interpretation)