“De-motorizing Utopia”

Yesterday’s mail brought the latest issue of Geez magazine into my hands.  This is probably one of my favourite publications, because of the fabulous, thought-provoking articles it publishes on a quarterly basis.  Each issue is totally different, and this particular one focuses on the idea of Utopia.

Just to give you an idea of all the directions this could go, the description reads as follows: “Our dreams are too dreamy. Our common script of the good life needs revision as we enter this phase of late capitalism, crumbling empire, depleted seas and fossil-fuel decline. We need a new utopia.”  Intense stuff.

I’m not going to give you my own ideas about utopia, but would rather like to  draw attention to one interesting piece of writing I saw by Aaron Levere.  It was describing a “de-motorized utopia,” a world without cars, and what that would look like.  In fewer words, cities could redirect money from highway maintenance to green infrastructure.  Neighbourhoods would be more integrated, as people would work close to home, and all necessities would be within walking distance.  Roads would be replaced with space for electric city service vehicles and streetcars, with multiple bike lanes according to speed (like a swimming pool).  Old parking lots could be turned into meadows, gardens, orchards, pasture, patios, housing, etc.  Car-related injuries would disappear altogether and drastically reduce pollution, cancer, depression, and stress.  All in all, this is very idealistic – utopian, of course –  and almost impossible to implement, but the resulting mental image that I got was wonderfully inspiring.

Cycling on Toronto Island - no cars here

Coincidentally, I stumbled across this article just a few minutes later: “Why Don’t Young Americans Buy Cars?”  I had to laugh out loud.  Here I’d just been thinking that a car-free city is impossible, and then another article is lamenting the very fact that car sales are plummeting.  Apparently GM is quite concerned about the Millennial generation (myself included), born in the ’70s and ’80s, who seem to think that cars are an unnecessary expenditure.  The industry interprets this as two possibilities: either the bad economy is discouraging young people from making such a big purchase, or else it’s a result of young people not growing up as quickly and shying away from big financial responsibilities.

Those could very well be the reason; no doubt GM has done more research into the question than I have.  But I’d like to throw a third possibility into the mix.  Could it be that the Millennial generation is more concerned about the environmental impact of cars and makes a conscious choice not to own because of that?  At least, that’s what the above-mentioned article in Geez would lead me to hope.  One must be idealistic and have high hopes in order to make change happen.

Now, I must confess to being a car owner myself, but my (somewhat lame) excuse is that I live in a rural area.  Despite that, I still manage to walk to the library, bank, church, play group, friends’ houses, movie theatre, restaurants, bars, and post office.  My children will walk to school.  My car gets used a few times a week to go grocery shopping, pick up our CSA share, go on family trips, and do any errands that don’t fit the list.

When I lived in Toronto, however, I did not have a car, nor would I have wanted one.  I biked everywhere, clocking about 25 km per day going between home, work, and school.  Not only did I get to my destinations just as quickly as if I’d taken the subway, but I also got in great shape.  And with the right attitude, biking in a wild rainstorm is quite exhilarating!

Feisty on wheels!

Having a car in the city is more of a pain than a benefit.  When you add up the cost of parking, insurance, gas, and maintenance, not to mention the initial purchase price, it makes far more sense to ride a bike, use transit, and take a taxi or rent a car when necessary.  Just imagine if downtown Toronto eliminated all car traffic, if boundary lines were drawn between Bloor St, the Don Valley Parkway, Front St, and Dufferin St, and everything contained within became car-free.

I don’t have a solution for us rural-dwelling folks, and maybe it’s unfair of me to be preaching to the urbanites while not belonging to that group any longer, but I think striving for car-free cities is a terrific goal to keep in mind.  Thoughts, anyone??

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9 thoughts on ““De-motorizing Utopia”

  1. I used to live in Honolulu and I would bike everywhere too. It is a great way to get in shape, and in a city with heavy traffic, it isn’t all that much slower than driving. The only time I drove was to visit my parents for dinner on Sundays. Biking is great, but once you have kids, especially two or more, it becomes very difficult to live without a car.

    1. I imagine biking in Honolulu is much nicer than Toronto in terms of weather! And yes, I know how difficult it is with kids. I have a chariot to pull behind, but the baby is still too young to use it. I’m stuck walking, which is fine, but rather slow once you get used to the speed of a bicycle.

  2. Although I enjoy biking for leisure, I must admit that I think I would find biking for transportation awkward. I do support public transit quite strongly. Having driven in Toronto a few times, I can honestly say that anything would be less painful than driving!
    The metro we rode when we visited Paris a few years ago was a dream! Clean, efficient, and just a pleasure to ride – even during the supper rush!

  3. I really think that rural areas in Canada need trains, and the big cities, like Toronto, efficient public transportation. I live curently in London and the transportation here is very good. From a family of two cars we became a family with no car. I cannot tell that the adjustment was not difficult, as we have a 2,5 year old boy who gets tired pretty quickly, but sheddying some kilos of our waist line was very welcome.
    I started driving in the age of 34 and this is mostly because of the inexistense of public transportation in rural areas like Port Elgin.
    I beleive that the balance between the use of public transportation, car, and bicycle would be really beneficial, but overall it is a matter of political decisions and necessity – as it happened in the case of Londona dn other European cities (overpopulated and crowded). I also think that Canada, as the youngest child, refuses to see the signs coming and refuses, as well, to learn from the examples of other older cities/countries in mother Europe. Canadian policitians think they will get along doing nothing about the environment as green and natural resourses are plentyful in the country, but I am afraid at one point that problems will become so big that they will have to face the conciquencies and find environmnetaly friendly solutions.

  4. Hello Katherine,

    I’m the letters editor for Geez magazine. We’re considering using a portion of your above post “De-motorizing utopia,” as a letter to the editor in the next issue of Geez, which should be out in the first week of June. Is this okay with you?

    Thanks,
    Katie Doke Sawatzky
    Letters to the Editor
    Geez Magazine
    katie@geezmagazine.org

  5. We were just in Toronto a few wks. ago, visiting family. I’ve there for over 20 yrs. and biked last 14 yrs. before moving Vancouver, Calgary…yea really.

    Yes I know Ford is sucking attention away from Toronto’s cycling achievements. Yea, you heard me. The city to me has changed…waaaay more cyclists now. 😀 My thoughts/memories here:
    http://cyclewriteblog.wordpress.com/2013/04/14/cycling-greenways-umbilical-cord-to-my-past-neighbourhoods-prairies-west-coast-and-ontario/

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