Excellence in Cityness is an ongoing series in which we examine places, infrastructure, and characteristics that help to make the Urban Experience of living in Seattle excellent.
In an increasingly crowded city, one that frequently feels as if it’s being run by absentee landlords, it can be hard to know how to engage civically. Obviously, voting. Attending city council meetings and seeing the vein-popping rage of NIMBYs can be another. But given the sporadic availability of both those measures, it’s easy to shrug.
The other day I was riding the famed 7 route to a job in Rainier Beach. It was hot, the bus smelled terrible and there were more people on it than seats. Behind me was a loud argument between two gentlemen who did not feel they were being afforded the appropriate amount of respect. In front of me a mom was trying to corral three children, two of whom were whining loudly and one of whom was still enough to be in a horror film. Beside me was an old man standing– looming if you will– as the bus jolted and thwacked it’s way down Rainier avenue.
Guh. I thought. H8 u bus.
At the next stop, two or three people got off, same amount got on. At that point, a teenage girl sitting two seats ahead stood up and offered her seat to the mom with kids. The kids were small, so two could fit to a seat and this settled them down quite a bit. I looked up at the man standing beside me and was guilt-panged. I stood up and gave up my seat. At that point, someone else did the same thing for a little old lady with a walker.
Suddenly it all felt a lot more . . . functional.
A lot of people don’t like taking public transit because of the sorts of conditions described above. It’s true that aside from more routes (which they’re doing) or means of conveyance that don’t get stuck in traffic (which they don’t do enough) it’s hard to alleviate overcrowding in Seattle, specifically. But when it is crowded, the behavior of the crowd goes a long way towards the infrastructure functioning smoothly.
It is with this in mind that I call on all urbanists, civic planning enthusiasts, transit stans, and otherwise socially minded city dwellers to first: ride public transit. Second: when you see someone who needs a place to sit more than you do, give up your seat for them.
This is a nice thing to do, yes. Generally, when people talk about individual acts of human kindness like this (or holding the door for a stranger, or letting someone with one item in front of your shopping cart full of treats for the month) they frame them as ways to “make someone’s day brighter” or “bring a little light into the world” or *tunes out hippie bullshit*.
Which is all well and good, but in addition to Warm Fuzzies, small acts of human decency and civility help a city that is stressed, crowded, and agitated to run a little bit smoother. They help sand off some of the sharpest edges that come with being around a lot of people all the time. Once those kids stopped yelling, everyone else on that bus had just a little more reserve energy to deal with whatever was to come next in their day.
So even if “being nice” doesn’t necessarily get your rocks off, knowing that you are, in a small, daily, way helping this town run smoother should.
Human kindness; it’s not just nice, it’s good civic policy. Ride standing up.
Also published on Medium.