Getting orange-pilled

The Stammering Dunce
4 min readSep 12, 2023

Also published on Wordpress.

In the context of urbanist online community (not bitcoin), orange pill refers to the realisation of how bad and dehumanising our car-centric cities are. It is credited to Youtuber Jason Slaughter AKA Not Just Bikes, known as one of the content creators popularising urban planning to the internet masses.

While I don’t think he has ever explained it, I assume it is called “orange” because it is the national colour of the Netherlands… and, as a Canadian, he has lots of positive things to say about his new home.

He has made many videos praising the urban design of Dutch cities; they are walkable, bike-friendly, transit-oriented, mixed-use and filled with “missing middle” housing. While the reactionaries, especially ones on Tiktok, pushed back against his content, others — including people who feel “inexplicably” unhappy about their cities — welcome it with open arms.

But, after a few years, some of his fans are starting to get tired with him. They realise that he becomes too cynical about North America and too romantic about the Netherlands, painting the places as far worse and better than they really are, respectively. They also criticise him for leaving North America for the Netherlands instead of stay and fight.

Even his fellow content creators called him out. While Jasmine and Patrick from Oh the Urbanity do not explicitly mention his name in their You don’t need to move to Amsterdam to be happy video, it is clearly about people who get orange-pilled. Alan Fisher AKA the Armchair Urbanist — someone who has collaborated with Slaughter multiple times — explicitly calls him out in one of his recent videos.

On one hand, he deserves to be criticised for his attitude. But, on the other hand, can we also blame him?

For one, he grew up in London, Ontario, a place he described as a car-dependent hellscape. He has travelled all over the world and he notices how most North American cities are far less urbanist than many cities elsewhere; from all urbanist places outside the continent, he consider the Dutch ones as the most near-perfect.

He is not as lucky as Alan Fisher, who grew up in a walkable suburb called Pitman, New Jersey and currently lives in Philadelphia, a relatively urbanist city; both places are also located in the Northeast US, arguably the only US megaregion that is served by relatively extensive intercity rails.

He is also not as lucky as Jasmine and Patrick, who can speak French and therefore have easier time finding works in Montreal, one of the “most European-like” cities in North America.

Both offline and online, he has dealt with stubborn reactionaries who insist car-dependent cities are the epitome of efficiency, modernity and freedom and walkable, bike-friendly and transit-oriented ones represent the complete opposite, even though they have no experiences living in the latter; they click on urban planning content NOT to open their minds, but to affirm their preconceived beliefs.

At one point, he used to work at a car-centric Canadian businesspark with poor bus services; when he complained about it, his coworkers told him to grow up and buy a car, even though the company didn’t pay him enough. While working in Toronto, his wife was called a treehugger by her coworkers, simply because she went to work by cycling.

While changes do happen in North America, they occur slowly and on a selected few places. He has kids and he wants them to grow up roaming the outdoors freely and safely; he cannot afford to wait for years, he needs to live in that near-perfect place now.

Oh, and one time in Toronto, he got hit by a reckless driver while crossing the road; he attributed it to bad road design which failed to maximised pedestrian safety.

Again, cynicism and romanticisation shouldn’t be our approaches to anything. But, with all of those facts combined, we also cannot blame him for believing what he believes.

And, to be fair to him, he has criticised the Netherlands on videos, albeit rarely.

In now deleted videos, he expresses his distaste of Zwarte Piet and how the country handled the pandemic. He criticises Amsterdam for still being too accommodating to cars by building underground parking spaces and allowing cars to enter the city centre. In a podcast he guest starred in, he finds Dutch economic system too neoliberal for his liking. He also believes Swiss public transits and intercity rails are far better than the Dutch ones.

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