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Exclusive: Too many Americans live in places built for cars — not for human connection – TalkOfNews.com

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Too many Americans live in places built for cars — not for human connection

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Part of the Friendship Issue of The Highlight, our home for ambitious stories that explain our world.

I’ve lived in Houston for most of my life, and there’s never been a time when I’ve reasonably been able to walk anywhere. Houston is practically the poster child for American urban sprawl — the landscape is dominated by spread-out neighborhoods with single-family homes and massive “stroads” (street-road hybrids with the worst aspects of both) lined with strip malls and expansive parking lots, connected by miles and miles of highways. It’s an environment designed to be solely traversed by car, not by foot.

That had a dramatic effect on the friends I could make, especially when I was younger and based in the city’s outer suburbs. Both of my parents worked, and without a car, if I missed my school bus home, I’d have to make the one-and-a-half-hour trek by foot under the hot Texas sun — forget easily going to the mall or the movies with my classmates.

College was eye-opening. I attended Texas A&M University, and spent most of my time in a denser, walkable campus environment that made it easy to meet and get to know people. I could start my day going to classes, then move to a dining hall, then the green space in front of my department building, and finally, the library — all without a car. It was easy to bump into friends, old and new, intentionally and by accident.

But when I returned to Houston to start working, friendship became exhaustingly difficult, as the long commutes made it hard to consider going anywhere but straight home after work. Even now, living in the inner ring of the city — “inside the loop,” as Houstonians call it — if I want to visit anyone beyond my apartment complex, I have to get in my car. It has made it hard for me to regularly see friends and even family. My parents live at least a half-hour drive away without traffic. (For reference, Google Maps tells me it would take me roughly seven hours to get there on foot.)

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I am not alone in my experience. As Mateusz Borowiecki — a research associate at NORC at the University of Chicago and creator of Eco Gecko, a YouTube channel about urban planning and the issues with American suburbia — told me, the sorts of “spontaneous encounters” with friends and strangers I experienced in college are much more difficult in car-dependent suburbs. The importance of such connections and easy encounters was made especially clear when the Covid-19 pandemic sent the world into lockdowns and loneliness spiked. A major study in May from the American Psychological Association found that pandemic mitigation measures like social distancing and quarantine led to “a small but significant” increase in loneliness among people in the United States and elsewhere. This was especially true for children, but also the elderly and those with disabilities, who have experienced unique forms of isolation during the pandemic.

Distance and isolation are fundamentally built into the urban areas — defined by the US Census Bureau as any area with at least 5,000 people — where most of us live. State and local governments prioritize building infrastructure for cars, and public transportation remains underfunded and unreliable. Wide roads and parking lots spread everything out and make walking extremely difficult, if a neighborhood even has sidewalks to begin with. Today, because a majority of Americans, including an increasing number of children and the elderly, live in car-centric areas like suburbs, our ability to form connections and community is limited.

Not everyone who studies urban planning believes that rethinking car-centric communities will reduce loneliness in America. “For average Americans…I would suspect a measurable but modest difference,” said Claude Fischer, a professor and sociologist at UC Berkeley who has done research on urban life. “And I understand that doesn’t lead to good headlines in Vox. That’s the nature of the beast.”

Yet there’s data that shows that both car-heavy places and a lack of access to transit have a detrimental effect on socializing and a sense of community, especially for those who can’t drive. As local governments across the US increasingly take steps to make car-centric cities more walkable and amenable to public transit, it makes sense for us to consider what it would take to do the same for car-centric suburbs. Americans of all abilities deserve to participate in society independent of their ability to own, maintain, and drive a car. That includes being able to make friends on their own two feet.


Having friends and social connections is important for many reasons, but especially because they can stave off or reduce loneliness. While everyone feels lonely at times, long-term loneliness is dangerous and can lead to a variety of physical and mental maladies, including high blood pressure, heart disease, a weakened immune system, anxiety, depression, cognitive decline, and even death.

According to a 2021 study by the Survey Center on American Life, Americans make most of their friends at work, followed by school, existing friend networks, their neighborhood, their houses of worship, and clubs or organizations. However, the way most American cities, towns, and suburbs have been designed makes it increasingly difficult to access these places and form friendships and communities. The central issue is that so many of these urban areas in the US are built for cars, not people.

American urban areas weren’t always built this way. As Gregory Burge, an economist at the University of Oklahoma who studies how local revenue collection affects urban density, told me, older cities such as Boston, New York City, and Philadelphia were designed to accommodate walking, and thus have narrower roads and are much more dense, allowing residents easier access to community centers, businesses, churches, and more. “It wouldn’t be uncommon at all to walk a city block or two and to see literally all the kinds of urban development that you might think of as being a part of human life,” he said.

The birth and rise of the automobile would allow for the development of car-centric development like modern suburbia, where, Burge explained, land use and zoning regulations cordoned off areas into categories such as residential and commercial. Thanks to the car, suburban neighborhoods with homes could be built farther away from restaurants, schools, shops, and more — contributing to what we know as “sprawl.” Car-centric development was given preference over everything else, and in the decades after World War II, highways and parking lots would come to dominate the urban American landscape. This came at the expense of public transportation, walkability, and the ability of most Americans to carry on their lives without a car. The consequences of designing entire communities around car use are manifold: Car-centric development is harmful to the environment, discriminatory, expensive, and bad for public health.

But do car-centric environments like suburbs really make it that much harder for people to make friends? Borowiecki said that while the relationship is fuzzy, and more research needs to be done, there are some notable correlations. For one, many suburbs have an issue of “community severance” where “the amount of [car] traffic on the streets…literally acts as a barrier that prevents people from moving around or walking from interacting with their neighbors,” Borowiecki said. Streets clogged with speedy and noisy cars in a study done by Jennifer S. Mindell and Saffron Karlsen were found to reduce “physical activity, social contacts, children’s play, and access to goods and services.”

Another study Borowiecki shared found that car-centric neighborhoods hinder “children’s social and motor development and put a heavy strain on the parents,” who must chauffeur their children to school and other activities. American children cannot legally get driver’s licenses until age 16 and are dependent on the adults who drive to navigate their environments. As a result, kids growing up in car-centric areas like suburbs have less independence and ability to play and traverse their communities, and more fundamentally, have fewer opportunities to meet and socialize with others, thus ending up with fewer friends.

It’s not just children whose social connections suffer in car-centric cultures. One study of mobility among older people in Arlington, Texas, found that the lack of access to public transportation in a low-density city makes it difficult for older people to get around, making socializing and maintaining friendships and other relationships that much harder — all the more worrisome because older people in the US are more likely to live alone than others elsewhere in the world. In a country where the general population is aging and the number of older people is set to reach 80 million by 2040, the general lack of mobility among older Americans is a pressing issue. One study participant noted the ways the lack of access to public transportation limited the ability to socialize, or as she put it, to “shoot up to the mall and have lunch, us girls.”

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So what would it look like for a person who couldn’t drive if we built our urban areas with their needs as our baseline? It might look like the experience of Borowiecki’s 85-year-old grandmother, who lives in a dense, public transit-rich city in Poland.

“She has plenty of access to green spaces to walk around and it’s high enough density that she knows people there and socializes with them,” he said. “She has free public transit — like three or four trains that stop five minutes from her front door that will take her all over the city. And she’s able to live a normal life and a social life and an independent life.”

We can have that in more of the US as well. Different polls say different things about which places Americans would ideally like to live in, but all paint a clear picture that a majority prefers to live in more populated urban areas like cities, towns, and suburbs rather than more sparse rural areas. The pandemic highlighted the importance of building dense, walkable cities, with more and more Americans valuing walkability and easier access to community.

That said, building new infrastructure in the US is notoriously a difficult, expensive endeavor, and upending a dominant form of urban development is an even taller order. Borowiecki told me, however, that it actually wouldn’t take that much: The urban planning literature suggests that the density required to have walkable neighborhoods is achievable by just having suburban neighborhoods be built closer together, say, by getting rid of lawns, and downsizing to something similar to the bungalow neighborhoods of outer Chicago. Gradually repairing American urban sprawl and retrofitting suburbs not only make neighborhoods more walkable and amenable to public transportation, but also makes it easier for Americans to encounter and socialize with neighbors, friends, and strangers alike.

The aforementioned study by the Survey Center on American Life found that Americans today have fewer close friends than Americans in 1990, and that people with more friends (regardless of closeness) tended to be more satisfied with their overall number of friends. Close friendships can be difficult to form and maintain, but it’s clear that other friendships, like what the study calls “situational friends” or “place-based friendships” are easier to form in communities that are dense, walkable, and filled with spontaneous encounters. Above all, if we want to design a more socially connected society that would allow for these friendships and encounters, urban planning in the US will need to become much more “active.” This will mean going beyond zoning, and centering the interests of people, not the vested interests that prefer the status quo of prioritizing cars and moving car traffic, to the detriment of pedestrians and disenfranchised communities.

My city, Houston, isn’t exempt from any of that. Even during the pandemic, unlike major cities like New York, Los Angeles, and Chicago, the greater Houston area’s population has continued to grow, and is projected to have a population of over 10 million people by 2040. Houston, too, could reconsider its growth model, as sprawling out with more and more road lanes is not the answer. Houstonians today are mounting perhaps the biggest fight against highway expansions in a generation and approved a referendum to expand public transit over the next few decades — though the plan, perhaps misguidedly, is merely being framed as a way to “ease traffic congestion.” Traffic is a problem, but because of what it does to us as people, not just as drivers. A more walkable, denser, and transit-rich Houston — and America — would be one where we’re not constantly stuck in traffic just to meet our friends, including those friends we have yet to encounter.

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Exclusive: Today in Supreme Court History: January 26, 1832 – TalkOfNews.com

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Today in Supreme Court History: January 26, 1832

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1/26/1832: Justice George Shiras Jr.’s birthday.

Justice George Shiras Jr.

The post Today in Supreme Court History: January 26, 1832 appeared first on Reason.com.

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Exclusive: Liberals Are Mad That McCarthy Named MAGA Republicans to Subcommittees on COVID and Government Weaponization – Good – TalkOfNews.com

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Liberals Are Mad That McCarthy Named MAGA Republicans to Subcommittees on COVID and Government Weaponization – Good

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House Speaker Kevin McCarthy announced members named to two select subcommittees – one investigating the origins of COVID and another looking into the weaponization of the federal government – and Democrats are livid over the addition of certain MAGA lawmakers.

“The government has a responsibility to serve the American people, not go after them,” McCarthy said in a statement.

“The Members selected to serve on these subcommittees will work to stop the weaponization of the federal government and will also finally get answers to the Covid origins and the federal government’s gain of function research that contributed to the pandemic,” he added.

McCarthy notes that the weaponization subcommittee is necessary because congressional Democrats and the Biden administration engaged in a “dangerous pattern of the government being used to target political opponents while they neglected their most basic responsibilities.”

RELATED: Conservative Victory: Dan Crenshaw Loses Race To Chair Homeland Security Committee to Freedom Caucus Member Green

MAGA Members Named to House Select Subcommittees

A couple of names that showed up on the House select subcommittees raised the ire of Democrats, particularly those associated with the MAGA movement.

Representative Marjorie Taylor Greene (R-GA) continued reaping the fruits of a kinship with McCarthy that would make Frank Luntz blush, being named to the COVID-19 subcommittee.

Greene celebrated the appointment, stating her intention to investigate the role of gain-of-function research, the Democrat “authoritarian” lockdowns, the ineffective vaccines forced on the American people, and Dr. Anthony Fauci’s role.

Greene will also be sitting on the House Homeland Security and Oversight Committees.

Also named to the COVID subcommittee is former White House physician Ronny Jackson (R-TX), who has consistently challenged President Biden to undergo a mental fitness evaluation.

Jim Jordan (R-OH) will chair the Select Subcommittee on the Weaponization of the Federal Government after being rejected by former House Speaker Nancy Pelosi to serve on the January 6th panel.

RELATED: White House Terrified of MAGA Republicans Being Named to Committees Investigating Biden Administration

Liberals Aren’t Happy

Liberals on social media responded with outrage over MAGA Republicans representing their constituents on the select subcommittees.

Because see, it would be better to have completely partisan sham committees like the January 6th debacle.

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Democratic Congressman Don Beyer dismissed both panels as “devoted to conspiracy theories.”

This is fine by us, since these days “conspiracy theories” mostly just means “the media hasn’t admitted it yet.”

House Judiciary Democrats lambasted McCarthy for having “sold out our democracy to empower MAGA extremists.”

Richard Stengel, a former Obama administration official, also took the dismissive ‘conspiracy theory’ path.

The ‘Weaponization’ subcommittee, Stengel claims, is “a body that creates rather than investigates conspiracy theories and which will eventually undermine itself.”

We literally just watched the January 6th sham create highly directed and produced filmography rather than evidence, doctored actual evidence, created conspiracy theories, and admitted they wanted to tell people what they should believe.

If Democrats are mad about MAGA Republicans serving on committees to provide a counterpoint to Democrat and media lies, then McCarthy is most definitely doing the right thing.

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Exclusive: Why older mass shooters like the California gunmen are so rare – TalkOfNews.com

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Why older mass shooters like the California gunmen are so rare

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The gunmen in both of the recent shootings in Monterey Park and Half Moon Bay, California, had an unusual profile compared to most perpetrators of violent crime: They were both senior citizens.

The Monterey Park gunman, who killed 11 and injured nine before fatally shooting himself, was 72. The Half Moon Bay gunman, who killed seven people before he was arrested in what police have characterized as an act of workplace violence, is 66.

Mass shooters of that age are rare, especially those with no prior criminal record, as was the case with the Half Moon Bay gunman. (The Monterey Park gunman had one arrest in 1990 for illegal possession of a firearm.) According to data from the National Institute of Justice, mass shooters between 1966 and 2021 were on average 34 years old, and those over the age of 60 accounted for a little over 3 percent of all mass shootings, which are defined as shootings in which four or more people are killed.

The notion that people “age out of crime” is one of the most well-documented phenomena in the field of criminology. The California shootings should be seen as exceptions to that principle, not as nullifying examples, according to Ashley Nellis, co-director of research for the Sentencing Project, which advocates for criminal justice reform.

“The predictability of age is probably the most reliable point of data that we have about people who commit violent crime. Young people are just substantially more likely, and by extension, older people are substantially unlikely, to commit crime,” Nellis said. “It’s certainly a cautionary note to anybody who would be jumping to make policy based on these two events.”

Research has repeatedly shown that criminal activity increases throughout teen years, reaches its highest point at age 17, the oldest that someone can be charged with a juvenile crime, and subsides thereafter throughout life. Property crime peaks at a slightly younger age than violent crime. But even chronic offenders would be statistically likely to stop committing crime by around the age of 40, Nellis said.

There are a lot of theories as to why that might be. Typical milestones associated with getting older, like graduating or getting married, may put people on a trajectory that veers away from criminality. Brain development isn’t complete until the mid-20s, hindering decision-making that might lead to crime and risky behavior. Young people have less financial security, and people in poverty are more likely to commit crimes. Some crimes might be physically demanding, and older people just might not have the strength to carry them out.

But both gunmen in the California shootings buck the archetype of a violent criminal, and their motives still aren’t entirely clear. Investigators have said that the Monterey Park shooter frequented the dance studio where he killed his victims and that the Half Moon Bay gunman, who lived and worked as a forklift driver at a mushroom farm, was angry at the coworkers he shot. Previously, there have been mass shooters as old as 70, including a gunman who opened fire at a church in Vestavia Hills, Alabama, and killed three people last June.

Though age can sometimes factor into the decision to impose a less harsh sentence on young offenders, the Half Moon Bay shooter’s advanced age won’t have any bearing on the length of his sentence, as is standard practice in the US.

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He will be charged with seven counts of murder and one count of attempted murder, with a special circumstance allegation of multiple murder and sentencing enhancements for each count because of his use of a firearm, the San Mateo County district attorney announced Wednesday. If convicted on those charges, he could be facing up to life in prison without the possibility of parole. (He won’t face the death penalty, given that California Gov. Gavin Newsom, a Democrat, placed a moratorium on executions in the state in 2019.)

Life sentences without parole have become increasingly common in the US over the last few decades. But Nellis argues the age of older offenders like the Half Moon Bay shooter should be considered a mitigating factor when making sentencing decisions — especially given that the use of executive clemency to release them early has become nonexistent, as she writes in a 2022 report.

“Regardless of age, somebody who does commit an act of violence like this is likely to be rehabilitated, be reformed, be ready to return to society within 10 years,” she said.

Recidivism is unlikely among older people, according to data from the US Sentencing Commission, and keeping them in prison comes at a high taxpayer cost, which includes health care bills that balloon at the end of life. It’s difficult to say how much those who’ll decide the fate of the Half Moon Bay suspect will take that data into account; his initial arraignment is Wednesday.

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