Progressive Baby Boomers Are Fighting Housing and Transportation Progress

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Baby boomers and a cyclist protest the loss of car storage.
Baby boomers and a cyclist protest the loss of car storage. .

Megan Kucharski with permission

In San Diego, residents have been fighting the installation of a new bike lane. The boomer-ish crowd says it will hurt businesses, that there isn't enough parking as it is (this despite a nearby garage that has never topped 55 percent occupancy) and that businesses will die.

But the very best protest sign of all, the one that encapsulated everything in a nutshell, was this one: "Factory Famering [sic] creates more GHG than all the transportation in the world. GO VEGAN." That generated a response.

First of all, it's not true by a long shot; transportation creates a lot more CO2 than farming. Secondly, it's bizarre that anyone who claims to care about greenhouse gas emissions to the point of going vegan would also defend free car storage. As one bistro owner (who will supposedly be harmed by this move) noted in the San Diego Reader:

It’s just a simple issue of whether or not we support the evolution of people and our climate and things that are important overall. I don’t know if I’m going to lose business or if I’m going to gain business, and frankly it doesn’t matter because I feel the issue at hand is greater than that.

Parking garages aren't the biggest issue

But much more important than progressive vegan boomers fighting bike lanes is the resistance to the building of new housing. Michael Hobbes writes in Huffington Post that progressive boomers are making it impossible for cities to fix the housing crisis. They are now the loudest voices protesting change of any kind. He writes:

Where protest movements and civil disobedience were once primarily the tools of the marginalized, they have now become a weapon of privilege — a way for older, wealthier, mostly white homeowners to drown out and intimidate anyone who challenges their hegemony. "Most of the abuse I got came from older suburban or retired folks, and always from people who considered themselves progressive," said Rob Johnson, a Seattle City Council member who retired in April after three years in office.

The opponents always have good reasons, often progressive, defending the poor and the needy from themselves.

In San Francisco, residents of a wealthy neighborhood opposed the construction of low-income senior housing, citing concerns that it was seismically unstable. Seattle homeowners sued a homeless housing project over a technicality related to its permitting. In Boise, by some measures the fastest-growing city in the country, one of the arguments employed by residents fighting the construction of new townhomes is that they will reduce pedestrian safety.

Alex Baca, a housing program organizer for Greater Green Washington, has a good explanation about how these activists learned their skills, and and why they're doing this:

"The boomer generation came of age at a time when neighborhoods were fighting back against highway expansions and power plants. To them, preserving their neighborhood is progressive."

A group used to being heard

Older, richer, often retired baby boomers have the time to show up at public meetings, and they tend to vote in large numbers and therefore get listened to. So bus lanes in New York, bike lanes in London, housing in San Francisco generally get defeated by the established residents. "It’s frustrating," [Seattle activist Matthew] Lewis said. "The people with the most privilege pack the meetings, shout over everybody else and get their way."

The craziest part of it all is that in a few years, these progressive boomers might well be wanting to rent an apartment in their own neighborhood. They might want to ride a bike or e-bike or mobility scooter to the store, as many older baby boomers are doing these days. They might even want to take a bus.

They are resisting inevitable change in their neighborhoods while ignoring the inevitable changes in their own lives, their own bodies. It won't be long before this all comes back to bite them.