Today I attended Better Transportation By Design, a forum put on at the National Building Museum by the Van Alen Institute. At the event, the Van Alen Institute revealed the winners of their Life at the Speed of Rail design competition. I found many of the winning entries interesting, but one in particular stood out to me: The Effect of High-Speed Rail on Six Lives, which proposes an ad campaign designed to highlight the benefits of high-speed rail.
In high-speed rail, as in mass transit, there is a tendency to assume that these services are used by someone else. The key to effective advocacy is to humanize these services, as The Effect of High-Speed Rail does, presenting high-speed rail in terms of the people who benefit from it—people who might be neighbors, friends, family, or co-workers. Suddenly the someone else is someone real, with a name and a face. Suddenly the investment in high-speed rail seems less like a white elephant and more like a valuable and necessary investment in our nation’s transportation infrastructure.
One of the things that drew me to The Effect of High-Speed Rail was the production values—the entry looks like something I would expect to see today in print or online as part of an HSR advocacy campaign. A little copyediting, and it would be ready to go, now (and we’re going to need to start seriously advocating for HSR sooner or later). The fanciful structures envisioned by some of the other entries are neat to look at, but before we can even start to talk about what we will build, we must convince people that high-speed rail is something we must do, and The Effect of High-Speed Rail does that perfectly.