Forty-seven years after I left home I have moved a dozen times in three states and have lost track of all those people I used to know from my neighborhoods. The one thing that remains is the idea in my mind that everywhere I go on a continuing basis, everywhere I live and everywhere along the way in between those end points is my neighborhood. Instead of trying to ignore the passage of time between start and finish I try to make an interesting trip of getting there.
New Yorkers know about this concept. When you travel on the sidewalks in an urban place the opportunities abound to interact with people of all character. New Yorkers are not highly automobile oriented. Mainly there is the lack of parking spaces. Secondly there is the level of traffic. Thirdly there would be the isolation that comes with having to attend to a car and drive alone to ones destination. People who live in NYC do so for the diversity of people who live nearby, walk the same streets and ride the same subways. Part of the idea is to reside close to work and not have the commute that suburban dwellers must do to work in the city.
The sidewalk is neighborhood just as are the apartments next door and across the hall, and maybe even more so. There is wondrous interactions between store owners, café waiters and the customers on the street. You can meet the love of your life, an old acquaintance, a future employer, some guy whose brain spews poetry. To meet them while driving a car, you’d have to run them down and get out to apologize. I understand that has been done, but I don’t recommend it.
The train, the plane, even a greyhound bus ride can make for an interesting time if you are not too critical. After all this is ‘being out in public.’ You get the good and the bad. It is what you make of the time and the encounters. I have met some very interesting people on plane, trains and in subways. I have never met anyone interesting at a highway rest stop. First they are all too busy getting where they are going and all wrapped up with getting the kids and the dog into the vehicle and all the accumulated trash out. For them the highway is a necessary evil to be endured between home and the National Park or Grandma’s house.
What you know about your neighborhood becomes part of your mental geography. Just like some people can drive around anywhere and remain oriented, others just know how to get from one point to another over sometimes thousands of miles of distance. Without many years of being accustomed to public mode of travel, many people do not feel comfortable in any other mode than flying to distant airport and taking a taxi to the hotel. The driver is supposed to know the way and assist with stowing the suitcases in the back.
Transit oriented travel can be just as easy if the traveler is in tune with the methods. For example, in my mind is the mental map of the entire trip between my Baltimore home and the house my sister has in Gloucester, Mass. The transit oriented trip requires 7 segments with 6 inter-modal exchanges. The automobile oriented flight requires 3 modes with 2 inter-modal exchanges. The latter travel itinerary costs a $15 taxi ride and the commitment from my sister to drive 2 hours for 100 miles to pick me up at Logan Airport. The former method utilizes two free shuttle buses, a subway ride and a commuter train ticket to the end of the line in Gloucester. It ends with a five minute car ride by my sister from the train station to the house. Going back home is just the same.
To accomplish the transit oriented trip one must know the details of the systems to be used or just be well aware of how such methods work. One doesn’t have to have ridden a city’s subway before to be aware of how subways work. One doesn’t have to drive every Interstate highway to know how Interstates work. It all depends on what you put in your head.
Not everyone is compatible with public transit modes of travel. To them, I say keep driving. We would not want reluctant participants being forced to ride a bus or train. They would mess up our enjoyment of the trip like so many road-ragers do on the highways and streets for motorists.
The future holds for us that which is inexorable truths. Fuel to operate our cars will continue to be much more expensive and in lesser supply as globally more people want it. The roads will become more decayed even as there are more cars and drivers wanting to drive more miles per year. The demand for “lane-space” will outstrip our ability and our funds to build more. It takes decades to build any road or fixed-guideway transit project so we better get started. You are getting older and may one day be denied the privilege of driving on a public thoroughfare because you can’t see well enough, react fast enough or remember where you are going and why.
The following are still truths but we can do something about them. Homes and jobs are getting further apart requiring longer commutes. Peoples’ incomes are getting smaller so they will be able to afford only less. Whether it is a big impact or a small one, too much carbon in the atmosphere is going to do damage.
Communities and neighborhoods are all human settlements, but not all human settlements are neighborhoods and communities. When people associate with each other by the choice of where they go, their home locations are not communities or neighborhoods. Families choose several communities for themselves that relate more so to their preferences than their residences. There is the school community that relates to their children. There is the church community that relates to their faith. There is the work community if the adults actually like where they work and want to associate with their co-workers. Some even have a vacation community where they visit every summer.
The world and this county in particular will change over the next few decades. There will the periodic variations that appear to indicate remission or even a return to earlier times such as when global politics resets lower the price of motor fuel for our automobiles. This will be only a temporary reprieve.
The warmer climate may manifest as cooler summers in one spot of the globe while increasing it in others. Some level of solar activity may dampen the heating of the planet for some period of time, but the trend continues as we force the atmosphere to accept all our exhaust.
Neighborhoods will be splintered in one place while others will be made firmer and more durable. It is for all of us to do what must be done to keep our activities part of a System that functions for a sustainable future.
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