A Placemaking Journal
[Holiday Leftovers] Confessions of a Former Sprawl Addict
For the last 25 years, I’ve been addicted to a string of takers. Time-draining, money-grubbing, fat-building, resource-depleting, toxic machines. For the last 18 months, I’ve been clean. Ever since our move to Canada. And this last weekend, I realized I may be cured.
That’s right, when we moved here 18 months ago, I decided to get rid of my car. This past weekend, my in-laws offered me their sweet little Audi on loan as they fled the cold for the winter. But living without a car for the first time since I was 16, I realize it’s a much better way. I just said, “No.”
Living in the heart of Winnipeg, I’m surrounded by walkable neighbourhoods on every side. Going from a golf course community in Florida — let’s call it an experiment, shall we? — with a Walk Score of 9 to Winnipeg’s Exchange District with a Walk Score of 88 quickly ended my auto addiction. And the score should actually be more like 98, but Canadian transit is not yet reflected, nor are the new Exchange retail establishments that have been opening one per month ever since I’ve lived here. It’s rich.
So I’d call this a lifestyle within sustainable urbanism — walkable, transit-served urbanism integrated with high-performance buildings and infrastructure, that balances environmental, social, and economic requirements — and it also makes extreme climates livable.
The principal barrier to greening where we live is how we live. Misguided transportation planning, home and infrastructure financing systems, and zoning practices incentivize sprawling, disconnected lifestyles, and are increasingly unaffordable, unfulfilling, and unhealthy. To reverse sprawl’s unintended consequences we should incentivize compact, diverse, transit-oriented development. The foundation of Real Green is neighborhood, district, corridor, and regional design, with high-performance infrastructure and green architecture layered upon that base. It’s cost-effective, since even $1 million invested in planning a city is less than gadget-greening a handful of buildings to which everyone drives.
So what does this mean to me personally to have kicked the habit?
My family’s average car miles per month decreased by 90%, going from a 3 car family driving 530 miles per week, to a 1 car family driving 55 miles per week. The AAA Your Driving Costs 2009 lists our combination of three cars costing $0.702/mile. Walkable, transit rich urbanism got us a 90% emissions reduction and saved us $17,206 per year. It also freed up 700 hours per year, which are entirely more fulfilling to spend in other ways than on my addiction. Oh, and all that walking has started dispensing with the weight gain that averages 10 pounds per person living in sprawl. Last Saturday’s New York Times article and CEOs for Cities study intone that my new house, with it’s above-average Walk Score will likely commanded a premium, as much as $30,000. Judging by local real estate prices, they’ve more or less pegged it.
Yearly savings tally:
– 90% less carbon emissions
– $17,206 car savings
– $30,000 house savings
– 700 hours
– 10 pounds
– Real community — priceless
Walkability isn’t about doing your duty for others. It’s about a better life for you. Or as Ken Groves put it last week, “I dwell small and live large.”
It feels great to come clean.