Transportation. What does the word conjure up for you? Is it a specific mode – like a bicycle or a car? Or something broader, like the highway network or those colorful maps depicting the many routes of an airline in and out of their hub cities? Do you imagine an inscrutable spreadsheet of numbers depicting project costs or a dusty plan full of policies that sound great but have no funding to support them?
I imagine all of these things, depending on the moment. But I also think back to that idea I mentioned in the last post – that “Transportation bears the policy burden of other sectors.”
I imagine the challenges we face in our transportation system as just a symptom of a bigger illness. And I imagine the work I do day in and day out as a band-aid. A band-aid stretched out to cover not just one, but multiple injuries. Old injuries that don’t seem to heal, so that band-aid’s a bit frayed around the edges.
I found myself wondering – why is this the field I’ve chosen to dig into? How is it that I’m ok just trying to hold together the edges of the wounds?
And truth is, I’m not ok with it, and I never have been. I have been engaged in environmental health and environmental justice, food systems planning, housing advocacy, working alongside other community members to advocate for their interests, supporting art in advocacy and community-building, researching the health impacts of civic engagement, and so much more (including recently helping to launch a podcast – check it out!). I work on transportation right now precisely because it sits at the intersection of so many other issues. It allows me to better understand the way other systems – of residential zoning and education, of incarceration, and economic development, just to name a few – have failed.
I use that understanding to help create change where I can in those systems, too. Sometimes directly, sometimes by sharing ideas with the people who are experts in those areas. And I’m lucky to have colleagues who challenge me daily to examine the roles race, ability, class, and gender play in the intersections of transportation and other daily needs.
It’s time to drop “transportation” from my title, though. In a hat tip to Lin-Manuel Miranda and the community at puttylike.com, I’m settling into polymath for now. I can’t quite fit “analyze policies, knit fibers, nurture living things, connect ideas and humans, ferment liquids, shake my tiny fist, ride bicycles, study all of the things” in my LinkedIn title.