Tuesday, February 19, 2013

If Driving is Freedom, Freedom is a Prison.


That's the big issue on my mind today, mainly due to watching the documentary, Sprawling From Grace.  In a nutshell, this documentary focuses on our society's love of oil. Our love of unencumbered transportation.  Our lives are focused around transportation.  Our cars define who we are.  Where we live.  How we play.

It's a love that needs to be modified. 

We love our cars.  When we buy one, we focus on finding one that defines us.  Is it sexy enough?  Too sexy?  Is the color right?  Is it fast?  Will it be able to jeep Moab?

Ok... that last one only appeals to me and a select few others, but you get the point.

Sprawling From Grace made me think.  While I knew that we, as a society, are too in love with our cars, I never really thought about it.  Again, like most people.

But then I moved to a small city in Southern Minnesota.  I moved within walking distance of fast food, a grocery store, a garden nursery, a pharmacy, and even the city's downtown area.  I had an opportunity to do something that I had never done before -

I ditched my car.

Ok, not totally.  I still use it more than I'd like.  The thing is, though, that when it's not too cold to do so, I can walk to the places that I'd only ever driven to in my old home.  Car-free shopping.

I now only need to get gas once every three weeks or so, and my tank is small, so I only buy about ten gallons.  It'd be even less, but I have to go out of town to buy my Cedar Summit Milk.

This sudden upsurge of increased exercise and enjoyment made me realize just how valuable this activity is for a person.  The documentary, on the other hand, called attention to the fact that I was now getting something I never had the ability to access before.

Something that many people can't enjoy.

This is because modern cities are designed for cars... not people.  

People have to drive to get to work.  
To get to the store.  
To enjoy themselves at a park.

Driving, driving, and more driving.  Very little is within walking distance.  People tend to drive 15-30 minutes to get to work - on a good day.  In high school, we dreamed about our driver's licenses  because those licenses meant freedom.

Driving is equated with freedom.

Think about that for a second.  Our dreams of freedom revolve around a gasoline guzzling hunk of metal.  Freedom stinks like gas and oil.  Freedom means sealing ourselves off from the rest of society, and disassociating from the beauty in life.

Freedom is a dream that will come to a crushing halt when oil becomes too difficult, too cost ineffective to continue.

You know that what I'm saying is wrong... that freedom is more than that.  You think about lofty ideals and aspirations of greatness.  But ask yourself:  This freedom that you love, how are you going to take any of the actions that you deem necessary to take advantage of it...

Without a car?

You begin to see my point.  What was once a luxury, something gorgeous that was associated with happiness and freedom, has now become a prison that we can't see ourselves living without.

That's because we need to redefine ourselves at a societal level, as well as a personal level..  

Sure, I can't tell you to do what I'm doing:  Ignore the car.  Do everything you possibly can without using it, of course, but let's be realistic.  Before moving to a small city I didn't have that ability.  I had a Walmart neighborhood market for my groceries and a dollar store. Not exactly the ideal.  At all.  My situation may have changed, but yours probably hasn't.  Do what you can to reduce the amount of time you spend in the car, but remember that in many places, and probably your own city, there's not a lot that can be done.

Of course, now that we realize that, we can take it to the next level:  society.  

Most cities have public transportation, but frankly, in most cities it sucks.

There's no way to put it nicely.

In my old home, the buses stopped running at 9:00 pm.  That pretty much made buses completely useless for evening entertainment, as well as, say, getting home from work if you work the swing shift!

And then, of course, they were unreliable.  Several times, I had to wait for over an hour to catch a bus, because of a breakdown.  Not fun.

Increased efficiency is necessary.

Rather than funding projects to add lanes to a freeway - because, seriously... they don't help - plug the money into public transit.  Make it better, so that people will actually want to use it!  This reduces fuel consumption and helps people's pocketbooks.

This is my take, and it's really only a smidgeon of what can be said.

I recommend watching Sprawling From Grace, which speaks about the transportation issue in far more detail than I could.  It's currently streaming on Netflix, so watch it while you have the chance!

And I also found it on SnagFilms, for free!

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