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Archive for January, 2011

Carjacked: A Reflection On A Manipulative Relationship

January 31, 2011 2 comments

UPDATED: 01/31, 5PM small corrections and small additions for clarity.

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Our dreams of cars and our real lives with cars are constructed with the help of a series of powerful myths and values that warrant a closer look.

~ Carjacked, pg 11 by Catherine Lutz & Anne Lutz Fernandez

Carjacked: The Culture of the Automobile and Its Effect on Our Lives

Carjacked won’t be for everyone; it ought to be.

It’s basic premise isn’t anti-car, although it certainly will be applauded by those focused on dividing people into one camp or another. It could do that if it simply listed the statistics woven in between its narration. They offer some poignant perspectives on our devotion to cars. There are many sections where the data will cause the most number adverse to pause for longer than most of us spend looking for our car-keys.

For an example, let me choose a detail at random…The first one I came to is on page 94, in the chapter titled “The Catch: What We Really Pay”, the authors look at where our tax dollars go and use Denver to show that it’s more than money going towards roads and bridges; there’s an entire system that breeds its own economy. In the mile high city, 40% of police activities, “15% of its fire department deployments, and 16% of its paramedic services are centered on automobiles.” (Another argument for traffic calming in coordination with enforcement)

It’s Not A War, We All Share Responsibility

Carjacked is not an attack on America’s obsession, rather it’s an anthropological exploration. Laying the facts and observations on the driveway and seeing the love affair for what it is: an odd relationship that is more manipulative and controlled than most ever realize. Yes, the tool itself has led to some competitive advantages and connected rural areas to the core areas in ways that 100 years ago were only dreams. But the love affair is manufactured through a cultural economic system that puts the majority of its energy into promoting, sustaining and subsidizing the single occupant vehicle.

In chapter 3, “The Pitch: How They Sell“, the authors describe how at an early age, and car companies know this, that our views of cars and social status are beginning to be developed and for some people those last a lifetime. One study shows how by second grade, children “had developed well-formed stereotypes about the kinds of people who owned different makes and models of cars.” As intended, that observation got me thinking about my childhood and my own relationship with cars.

The Family Car As A Needy Member Of The Family

By second grade, I was seeing first hand how dependence on the automobile stresses a family. What I saw on television didn’t match reality. I didn’t see  a single commercial with a family stalled on the side of the road.

We start them young.

We weren’t poor and we weren’t wealthy. The cars my step-father pieced together and “kept on the road” certainly weren’t newer models. They were however, as I’ve written before, rather large. I recall countless weekends playing in and around the garage while he “tinkered” and “maintained” what seemed to be a fleet of family cars that were in various stages of road-worthiness. Having a dependable car was a family predicament that often rose to priority status. On those long days, with me typically handing tools as they were called for, I acquired my robust handle on creative expletives that would make George Carlin proud.

What I didn’t learn was an affinity for mechanics. It really seemed too stressful, dirty and aggressive. I’ve later grown to philosophically appreciate the Zen and grace a mechanic can show, but not in time to inherit the desire to attempt more than shallow-basics. I also didn’t acquire the cultural attachment to automobiles. They’ve never been anything more than a mobility tool. Or, as I like to call them, 2-ton transportation pods.

Irresponsible Car Ownership

My own car ownership began when I was 16 and I’ve been a fickle friend to a series of automobiles. To the point of shameful neglect to the cars of my earlier life. My first four cars may just still be in a scrap-yard pasture somewhere in Benzie County. They never rose to a level of high importance or as treasured assets. They were simply a background character. The relationship began with a series of hand-me-downs that might as well have emerged out of the hard-packed gravel of the driveway-they sure looked that way. I had no concrete idea where they came from even when there was an exchange of a few hundred dollars.

The Nova's last night.

My first honest purchase was a blue 1973 Nova for $200. I put no money into it; not even an oil change. It ran for just under a year. I remember the very odd parental look-over the car received when I started to drive an attractive classmate to school. She made it quite safely every-time and walked quickly away from the car and me once it came to a rest in the school parking lot, every-time. Anticipating its last hurrah, I entered the Nova into the homecoming ugly car contest. I secured a win by letting fellow students kick and beat it during the contest. I recall two students using it as a trampoline for 10-minutes. For the parade, friends and I sawed it into a t-top and mounted a plastic chicken on the hood. When I finally made it home that night it spat and sputtered to a rest in a big puff of blue smoke. I was once again carless.

Entering adulthood, I half-heartedly entered the intentional car market. I bought a Sunbird from my sister that functioned well, because she said I needed one. It ended up wrapped around a telephone pole on one of the worst ice-storms of the year before I could pay her off. I somehow walked away without serious injury other than a mild concussion (which may come to haunt me later) and a new appreciation for investing the extra money into good tires. I was carless until I really upped the intention and had my father co-sign for a personal loan with the intention of purchasing a newer-used car. It must have bothered him, a lifelong GM employee, that the car I settled on was a Nissan Sentra: boxy, basic and foreign. With brand new tires on it (my first purchase) it took my friends and I on many road trips all over Michigan and points further afield. “Anyone for a trip to South Carolina for a weekend? Let’s go. We’ll be back by Sunday night.” Good times.

I took better care of the Sentra, but slowly became disenchanted. After 2 years, I took the insurance off of it to experiment with being carless. There were some environmental rationale, as well as financial reasoning, but really, I simply didn’t like always being car dependent and found, for the most part, walking and biking the 3-miles to college worked just fine. It took about 4-months of it sitting in the driveway until I made the final plunge. I sold it and only regretted it on a few occasions. For most of the 90’s I was in effect carless, although I often rented, borrowed or hitched rides with friends. It’s difficult to have a robust social life in Northern Michigan without a car, so I often paid for gas. I also was now able to save money fast and began my travels to Asia.

Anyway, now that I’ve lived in Northern Michigan for 9-straight years and I’m in my 30’s (read more responsible-supposedly), I’ve realized car ownership might not be required, but it certainly has advantages. It’s a privilege of wealth (relative) and most of our household trips fit the national norm of under 2-miles. It makes life convenient, but it isn’t necessary.

My experience with cars, I recognize, has opened me up to the ideas, observations and data presented in Carjacked and for further questioning of our car devotion. I can read it without becoming defensive and seeing it as a “war on cars.” It is raising questions similar to the mission of this BLOG, which when it is performing its best is advancing our understanding of the use of public space as it relates to people and how our tools and the values associated with them shape our choices and create dependence, not freedom.

As the authors write of the challenge near the beginning of the book:

Each of these values provides a pillar of the temple of car mythology that we must first understand in order to see how these myths have shielded our view of what thew car system really looks like. Uncovering these myths allows us to rethink our relationship with the car and genuinely pursue or even rethink our core values.

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This BLOG and the advocacy behind it takes time; more than I care to admit. It’s not really a job, but it is work and MyWHaT is looking for underwriters to help support it. Can you help? Underwriters may use the MyWHaT PayPal account, fill out a Underwriter Form to mail orsend me a message to meet over coffee and discuss options. Terms can be creative; we take Baybucks, bartering and pledges.

If you’d like to make a personal donation, PayPal is by far the best method.

FYI: Monday’s Quote Series is now the Well Put series.

Well Put: From “The War On The Carless”

January 31, 2011 2 comments

Monday’s Quote Well Put

If there was ever a “war” involving cars, it ended long ago, and cars won.”

~ By David Roberts, in The War On the Carless

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Roberts’ editorial is more than what you’d expect after reading this one sentence. Focusing on Seattle, it’s a reflective look at the ongoing discussion taking place all over the world. It’s informative and loaded with useful links, including this counter editorial.

The full paragraph to the above quote:

“If there was ever a “war” involving cars, it ended long ago, and cars won. Their dominance has been so total for so long that we’ve come to think of public spaces designed to accommodate two-ton vehicles as the default state of affairs. The public, including the poor and working-class who are most likely to rely on public transit, massively subsidizes roads and parking. Even the most marginal efforts to charge drivers for the services they enjoy (with, say, parking fees) is greeted as an act of hostility.”

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Remind yourselves of this tomorrow.
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This BLOG and the advocacy behind it takes time; more than I care to admit. It’s not really a job, but it is work and MyWHaT is looking for underwriters to help support it. Can you help? Underwriters may use the MyWHaT PayPal account, fill out a Underwriter Form to mail or send me a message to meet over coffee and discuss options. Terms can be creative; we take Baybucks, bartering and pledges.

If you’d like to make a personal donation, PayPal is by far the best method.

FYI: Monday’s Quote Series is now the Well Put series.

You’re A King, Play, Laugh, Draw Horses, Know Your Limits And Wear Pants (The Weekly Chatter)

January 28, 2011 1 comment

A MyWHaT subscriber sent me this Huff Post article: The Key to Happiness: A Taboo for Adults?

He included this comment, “I read this and in my head related it to driving vs.cycling. I seem to be the serious adult when I drive that’s all about the result and getting things done (not that getting things done is entirely bad). And when I bike/walk, I’m more open to the journey than just the end result.

Lately, I’ve particularly been enjoying rides in fresh powder and riding on to & over snowbanks. It’s fun. I often forget I’m going to a meeting or to work until I get there. When I drive, I always know where I’m going; that’s less fun. It’s good advice: Play on your way.

Weekly Chatter

by Jennifer Bourne

Twitterville

  • RT(@SocialVisionMkt) I’m guilty of walking & texting Luckily this hasn’t happened to me
  • RT(@shanenickerson) A friend told me there’s a place like twitter called “outside” where people favorite each other by making eye contact and smiling. #Unfollow.
  • RT(@Intersection911) Thinking a lot lately about lack of proper bicycling facilities (or dealing with dangerous drivers) as an economic justice issue.
  • RT(@shitmydadsays) “No. Aliens exist, I just don’t think they came millions of light years just to see earth. Be like driving 1000 miles to go to an Arby’s”

To Wrap

We’ve all been caught with our pants down without lights. What do you do? A useful message from the Bicycle Transportation Alliance

Have a weekend!

p.s. thank you for the horse on bike link R. Ding-a-ling!

Graphic Friday: Want Traffic Calming? Don’t Start With Stop Signs

January 28, 2011 3 comments

Graphic Friday

This graphic is adopted from a Traffic Calming presentation in September in Traverse City, but the concept’s idea is everywhere. The basics of the graphic show how stop signs can increase top speeds as people race between them. Not shown, but most of us can see how the noise (& pollution) increases closer to the intersection where stop signs are placed. This is caused by cars breaking, revving up and racing to the next stop sign (or worse, a green light). I experienced this yesterday, to some extent, while walking along Cass St. It was considerably louder closer to each intersection.

Often, when a group of neighbors get together and demand that something be done once and for all about traffic, they end up calling for stop signs. Stop signs do indeed have their place in the traffic management mix, but traffic calming is not considered one of them. In fact, they may make the situation worse or at best make the problem slightly different.

Apparently, even 4-way stop signs need careful consideration.

Where do we stop with stop signs?

Traffic calming’s approach is to reduce the extremes. This hopefully makes for a smoother flow, but also quieter, safer street corridor. Of course, without any traffic calming measures stop signs may just be better than nothing at all. Or, perhaps nothing is preferred. I used to live in a 15th floor apartment with a view of a four-way all-go and motorists always approached with caution.

Traffic author, Tom Vanderbilt recently explored the history and reconsideration of stop signs in a Slate article titled: Stop! Is it possible to design a better stop sign? It is worth a read It needs to be read by anyone arguing for a stop sign. In it, he describes the Catch-22 of the instrument:

“Residents of a neighborhood may complain about drivers speeding down their street and petition the city to install stop signs. But stop signs are not a safety device as such, nor a traffic-calming device: They exist to assign right of way. Faced with more stop signs, some studies have shown, drivers may actually drive faster to make up time lost for stopping at (or really, slowing through) the intersection; the more signs installed, the lower the compliance.

Certainly, we will discuss this more in the near future. In the meantime, be more considerate; when driving, drive slow and steady.

Compulsion, Curiosity And Coffee…Only Go So Far

January 27, 2011 Leave a comment

* The Year of The Bunny Is Upon Us graphic via Kinfolk/Hypebeast

I’m often asked:

  • How do you keep MyWHaT going?”
  • “Are you making any money doing this?”

The answer to the first question is  the 3-C’s: Compulsion, Curiosity and Coffee.

Of course, the 3-C’s ebb and flow in terms of intensity. At times, a perspective simply NEEDS to be put into the public realm, other times there’s not much going and it’s larger questions that I’m exploring and sometimes…sometimes I’ve just had too much coffee. Luckily, for the latter, I have a hook-up from my original underwriter Higher Grounds Trading Co.

As for the question of money…honestly, this was more of a concern from some MyWHaT readers than it has been for myself. They know who they are and they have been seriously pestering me about a business plan since 2-weeks into the project. I listened, a little, and sought out a handful of champion underwriters for the inaugural year of MyWHaT.

A large THANK YOU to Higher Grounds, McClain Cycle & Fitness, Erway Graphic Design, Krios Consulting, TART Trails, and the Michigan Land Use Institute.

There were also several private supporters that all contributed.  THANK YOU to everyone who contributed (or even sent supportive thoughts)!

It’s true, there are costs associated to maintain the BLOG, as well as costs to attend conferences/trainings, join professional organizations and in general pay for research & development not readily available (libraries help, but books are nice to own, I have a book wishlist).

I’ve actually lost count of the hours spent working on the BLOG because as a freelance photographer & writer my work life & non-work life already had melded together. I take a more philosophical perspective of work that’s more in line with the poet Gary Snyder’s view that work, the Real Work, iswhat is to be done” and it’ll drive you nuts if you count the hours spent. I might be able to measure it in happy hour pints, but would have to do the math.

There’s Work To Be Done, With Your Help

Regardless, there is a lot of work to be done to develop a community reflective of our values and vision. For Traverse City, I don’t believe that vision is wider roads and ever-increasing amounts of single occupant vehicles running amok through our neighborhoods. When presented with the right question, I don’t believe it’s many other people’s vision either. The goal of this BLOG is to first celebrate the commons. Then, it is to inform and help engage people on issues related to making Traverse City, NW Lower Michigan and points further afield great places to live.

This is a long way to say: I’m looking for underwriters. February 3 is the lunar new year and I’ll be reaching out before then to current underwriters and potential underwriters for year-long commitments. I’ll also be running a reminder at the bottom of daily posts for the month.

Underwriters may use the MyWHaT PayPal account, fill out a Underwriter Form to mail or send me a message to meet over coffee and discuss options (see the form below)–terms can be creative; I take Baybucks, bartering and pledges. If you’re interested in underwriting, or know someone who might be, use the form below to send me a message.

If you’d rather remain anonymous (publicly) or make a personal donation, PayPal is by far the best method, however, I always enjoy meeting people over coffee, beer or good food.

OK, that was my public ask…It didn’t hurt too bad.

“Find your place on the planet. Dig in, and take responsibility from there.”

— Gary Snyder

“The Way You Get Around Determines How You Live.”

January 26, 2011 Leave a comment

EDITOR’S NOTE: The Strong Towns BLOG has received a lot of attention on MyWHaT of late. Today’s post is a rift by guest writer Henry Morgenstein after he discovered a perusal of their site-as usual, it’s provocative.  Tomorrow next week,  I’ll have my rift off of their recent Starter Strategies for a Strong Town post-my attempt to look at some economics.

“The Way You Get Around Determines How You Live.”

by Henry Morgenstein

I was just reading a blog called Strong Towns. Like everybody else, they are trying desperately to come up with a formula that would make modern towns look like towns used to look like: places full of people, full of local stores. The blog was realistic. It admitted to that we have many benefits now — computers, cheap consumer goods — that we did not have then. The wish for the past was not a stupid wish to be transported to a golden time. We are better off now, but our cities are soulless.

Is there a single solution to our soulless downtowns? Is there a silver bullet, a way of making the downtowns of all cities more vibrant, more alive? In short is there a way of making a social life exist inside cities?

Our urban life does not throw people into the street. It rakes them up, shuts them into office buildings and houses….instead of squares & fields, modern cities devise means to keep crowds moving rather than gathering. Streets work as thoroughfares, channels…social circulation, ventilation, not congregation…Architectural means to disperse, direct crowds.”

That says it all. I have always known that architecture creates the environment we live in, but I never fully realized that our streets are the architecture of our lives. Wide streets, streets devoted to cars, not people, create the life we live. We are dispersed, herded, moved through. Loitering is not encouraged. Stand still or walk slowly & dreamily & you will be dead.

Or, to sum it up, “The way we get around determines how we live.” How we live means how we shop, who we befriend, what we eat. The list is endless. A car culture is radically different from a subway culture.

Conversation Cars on Subways (Sabo/News)

Think of cities that have subways & trolleys. What you see is people on the street, in subway cars. You see crowds, you meet people — some of whom are bound to become your friends — or at the very least acquaintances. One way or another you will get to know them, recognize them.

Think of a car oriented city. People hurtle buy in closed containers. Life on the street is zilch, zero. Life on the street is dangerous, non-existent.

If you want to bring back vibrant downtowns, local shops, street life, you must change the way people get around.

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“The way you get around determines how you live.”

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There is only one way to go back to what we love about the past, towns that are full of people & local stores. That is to change the way we get around — and instead of focusing on banning cars — and we must eventually ban cars — we must first focus on alternative means to get around — busses & trolleys, bicycle pathways & pedestrian paths. If, and only if, there are efficient public ways to get around, can we begin to do what must be done. It’s already beginning to be done. Just today I read that Paris (& many other French cities) are considering banning SUVs. As the article says, “SUVs are not compatible with city life.” Truthfully, cars are not compatible with city life.

We all want city life; we really do. We are sick of our current landscape: deserted city streets because city streets, nowadays, are pieces of the highway. We want towns that are full of people & shops & cinemas & our friends & our neighbors.

What can we focus on to make such cities live again? “The way we get around determines how we live.”

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Your Comments Matter

Comments: we welcome your comments, please don’t be shy. The more questions, perspectives and general participation we have here the better. What’s on your mind?


Reminder: Old Town Neighborhood Observational Walk

January 26, 2011 2 comments

The Next Observational Walk

Reminder

Tomorrow, January 27th at 4:30-pm is the next observational walk. We will meet at Cass St. and 8th to walk the length of Cass St. to 14th and then return north on Union St. The purpose of the walk is to experience the place at the human scale and see how it serves people.  Please, RSVP online or show up at 4:30 at Cass & 8th on Thursday.

Plug in where you can. Drinks likely to follow.

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We had two community walks in 2010: Division St. and State St. (downtown). I thought I had written up the observations from the State St. walk, but a quick search of the website didn’t find it, so I think it slipped past me. My apologies. When I find the notes I will follow-up. The main observations confirmed a lot of Peter Spaulding’s description when he wrote about a State St. conversion back to a two-way street. It was also interesting to hear the history of the road and the progress it has made! From the sounds of it used to look something like US-31 south of Meijers: car lots and gas stations.

A version of a countdown signal.

Observations from the Division St. were published and were also used to suggest improvements for as early as 2011. According to MDOT, the suggestion made during the walk for installing pedestrian countdown signals was pursued and funds found to make that happen. That’s a good thing. There were other suggestions that came out of that walk that need supporters.

I’m looking forward to meeting new people tomorrow and going for a walk. Last week I walked my beagles to the vet south of 14th street…um, it wasn’t pretty.

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Your Comments Matter

Comments: we welcome your comments, please don’t be shy. The more questions, perspectives and general participation we have here the better. What’s on your mind?

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