The Social Costs of Car-Free Living in Small Cities

What kind of a statement does car-free living make in a small city? Today on the Streetsblog Network, Aaron Renn at The Urbanophile
poses that question in a provocative post. Sure, it’s about walking the
walk of sustainable transportation, he says, but it also represents a
withdrawal from the community structure in places such as Columbus and
Cincinnati:

3605138336_20bffac6df.jpgPhoto by World of Oddy via Flickr.

In
a metro area that is nearly all auto-oriented, much of the setting of
civic life in that city is outside of the core downtown area and
districts where it is easy to get to without a car. To live without a
car is a deliberate cutting off of oneself from those activities and
regions — especially suburban — and from that part of society.

I
think it’s that last part that is important. Living carless is a
deliberate rejection of the majority of the metro area, evidenced by
actually enduring hardship by voluntarily depriving oneself of the
means to travel there. I’m sure this message is not lost on the people
who live in those places.

Sure, I get it that there are
legitimate concerns about sprawl and other things. But I also hear
these same urban advocates complain that suburbanites don’t care about
the city, are afraid to visit downtown, won’t support urban core
redevelopment, etc. If you are living carless in one of those cities,
frankly, you have no leg to stand on in complaining about that. (I’ll
make an exception for college students.)

Imagine how this looks
to someone living in the suburbs. What do they see? They are asked to
visit downtown and support downtown, but have to listen to urban
advocates claim that the highest and best form of living is to be
downtown without a car — a car that is necessary to visit the suburbs,
and by extension them.

This brings to mind a recent post from Carfree With Kids
about maintaining relationships with friends in the suburbs if you
don’t have a car. It’s true that for all the ways in which car-free
living can create and sustain a sense of community, it can also be a
barrier to creating social — and political — ties in many places and
circumstances. We’d be interested in hearing about your experiences and
thoughts on the subject in the comments. But first head over to The Urbanophile and read the excellent post in full.

More from the network: The Transport Politic reports that Louisiana Governor Bobby Jindal, who previously flipped his position on high-speed rail, has now decided to flop. Travelin’ Local looks at the relative spatial efficiency of various transport modes. And Transit Miami laments the situation in that city Miami-Dade County, where the mayor has been handing out fat raises to his staff while cutting the budget for transit.

  • soylatte

    What a bad, incoherent argument. All the negative talk about “deliberate rejection” and “voluntary depriving” is essentially scaremongering, as facts are not provided to back up the claims made. It makes me think someone is either too complacent or lazy to look into facts.

    Of course, it is not deprivation. It’s a different way of living and I bet you can have a rich, fulfilling life without relying on cars to transport you over large distances all the time. Once you get over the sense of entitlement of recent generations, of course.

    I bet the author would be amazed, if he would give it a try and really approach it with an open mind.

  • ZA

    What a lovely provocation, but I take a slightly different view.

    Going without a car can cost in old relationships, but so can moving to the ‘wrong’ neighborhood in the suburbs. Plenty of suburbanites with maximum car ‘freedom’ do not visit the cities or ‘those neighborhoods’ because of (insert your misperception here). As with all lifestyle choices there are costs and benefits. If a new city-dweller doesn’t want to give up their car(s), then don’t (just don’t assume a free parking for them)! Of course it’s a shame there aren’t trains, buses, bike-bridges, and CarShares to enable the alternatives in more places, but until you get enough people demanding those alternatives, it’ll never be built. I’d like to think a chorus of demand from cities AND suburbs will get those alternatives built.

    Quite rightly, the suburbs are a necessary part of regional connections – physical and cultural, but don’t be afraid of a little hyper-localism either. Cultivating a new rootedness, and the new friendships that requires, in a mainstream that assumes mobility without cost is an important gain for everyone.

ALSO ON STREETSBLOG

Planning Commission Approves Parking-Free 1050 Valencia Project

|
A car-free, 12-unit condo and retail development was approved unanimously yesterday by the SF Planning Commission, despite opposition from some residents. The project will include no car parking and 28 bike parking spaces. The building at 1050 Valencia Street will be targeted toward residents seeking the kind of car-free lifestyle that’s increasingly popular in neighborhoods like the […]

Bike Skirt Goes Car-Free in Birmingham

|
Yesterday we featured a post from The Urbanophile about the political and personal costs of carlessness in a small city. Today, we’ve got something of an antidote to that — an entry from Streetsblog Network member Bike Skirt in Birmingham, Alabama, about the sense of liberation, connection and empowerment that giving up a car can […]