I confess, I’ve sometimes been hard on Elon Musk. When he talks about how he’s going to change the facts of geometry, I point out that no technology has ever done that. And I’ve commented on other things he’s said that express cluelessness about how cities work. Musk is doing some great things, but he is also using his megaphone to advance the idea that our cities will be great if we can just drive faster through them. Most of his own home town, Los Angeles, was designed on that very principle, and look how that turned out.
Recently, I wrote a very careful piece on elite projection — the universal problem of very fortunate people designing the world around their private needs and tastes. (Read the piece before you make a judgmental comment based on that summary!) Since then, Musk has really been helping me out. He keeps uttering more and more lurid quotes that are perfect examples of elite projection. Even the tech boosters of Fast Company noticed that his Los Angeles tunnel project seems engineered for his personal commute. And he is always saying things like this:
[Public transit is] a pain in the ass,” he continued. “That’s why everyone doesn’t like it. And there’s like a bunch of random strangers, one of who might be a serial killer, OK, great. And so that’s why people like individualized transport, that goes where you want, when you want.”
Well, the company of “random strangers” is what a city is, and since a city is a lot of people in not much space, there isn’t room for everyone’s car. So I said the obvious:
In cities, @elonmusk‘s hatred of sharing space with strangers is a luxury (or pathology) that only the rich can afford. Letting him design cities is the essence of elite projection. https://t.co/gtSVgPkfPo https://t.co/CmCpoIJ5NE
— Jarrett Walker (@humantransit) December 14, 2017
To which the great man replied:
You’re an idiot
— Elon Musk (@elonmusk) December 15, 2017
… which, at the moment, has over 17000 likes, 2500 retweets, and a diverse thread of responses, including a lot of cool urbanist and tech people defending me. It’s all very funny to me, and I hope it is to you.