Automobility

This morning I had a meeting for an interdisciplinary conference I'm participating in on Friday. One of my colleagues is an anthropology student and is presenting a paper on the use of cars in China. She brought up a term that is often used in anthropology and cultural studies when talking about the study of people and their interactions with cars: automobility. I thought this was an interesting term, and the things she had to say about the impact of rising car ownership rates on China were fascinating. It got me thinking about cars and their impact on my own life.

I didn't own a car for my first three years of college; I just walked or biked to where I needed to go, and often ran errands with roommates or friends that had cars. Generally my life was pretty simple and I didn't have much need for a car. When Mr. Fob and I were dating, he got a car so we've had one for our entire married life. During those years we've gone through various stages of car usage. I will admit that when we lived in Wymount we would often drive our car to campus (yes, I know we lived "on campus") rather than spent the twenty to thirty minutes it would take to walk to class or work. We often justified this by the fact that we wanted to go home for lunch and usually only had an hour to do this, but I still feel kind of silly for it. Then we moved to Orem when Mr. Fob got a job at the library there. It worked our really well because we got an apartment right across the street from his work, and since we could walk to church our car use was really limited. The apartment wasn't the greatest, but it was cheap and gave us the opportunity to not waste time or money commuting. When we lived in Seattle we also lived on campus, so Mr. Fob could walk or bike to class and we also didn't use our car very much. Our apartment was right next to a big shopping center, so during the entire time we lived there I never drove to a grocery store and even started doing most of my other shopping at the drug store nearby. Now we also live on campus so I ride my bike to class, and my husband works at home. I do use the car for grocery shopping and most of the winter we used it to take S-Boogie to school. Our town has a lot of nice bike lanes and accommodations, but I've discovered that they are mostly in the peripheral areas of town and across campus, but not downtown where I want to run my errands.

Now as we're preparing to move I'm trying to figure out what my automobility will be. In my ideal world we would be back in a situation where we could use our car as little as possible, but I know it's not going to happen. I don't want to have to get a second car because my husband has to drive to work every day. I don't want to have to unload kids in and out of the car several times a day just because I have to take them to school. It may seem like I'm trying to be environmentally friendly, but I'm really just lazy. And one of the things I'm going to have to try hard not to grumble about in Utah is the lack of alternatives to driving. When we lived in Orem I used to sometimes walk to nearby shopping centers for groceries and things. And I hated it because each time felt like some sort of death-defying feat. None of the stores (ahem, Target and Smiths) would even have any sort of access from the street other than crossing a giant parking lot. Smiths also places all kinds of extra stuff on the display area around the doors, so even if there were a sidewalk leading out to the street you couldn't get to it because the displays force you to walk straight ahead to the sidewalk. I don't think we're going to live right by State Street again and I hope to end up in some kind of more pedestrian-friendly neighborhood, but I wish we could make some small changes in our infrastructure. It doesn't have to be something like this town (although I would love that), but maybe small steps like this one. I've never been much of an activist, but I realized the other day that if things are happening in my community that I don't like, I might as well see what I can do about them (don't worry, if we were staying here there are some issues I'd probably want to talk about too--it's not just Utah).

Comments

Kristeee said…
There are a lot of houses for sale/rent by where we live. We're within walking distance of 2 elementary schools and a couple parks, and a short bike ride away from UVU, the Rec center, Target, the library, and all that right around there. Hehe - I should really get a bike and a kid trailer.
Amira said…
I've always thought Orem was frustratingly unwalkable, at least for shopping. It's just not designed for walkers, even if you live reasonably close to a lot of things. We were much happier walkers in downtown Salt Lake, or even in the outskirts of Rexburg and Moscow, Idaho, and certainly in Bishkek, Kyrgyzstan. Boise was as bad as Orem though.

I'm totally sold on walking, and it's a significant factor in where we choose to live. It helps that we homeschool. Truly walkable neighborhoods with excellent schools are a relatively rare combination.
Earth Sign Mama said…
That was one thing I enjoyed about Port Hueneme--riding my bike everywhere. Of course, it helped that the whole town was flat as pancake, had 350 days of sunshine and balmy temperatures...
Th. said…
.

When everyone realizes that environmentalism can equal laziness, the world will be saved.
Except for a few dark months, neither of us have ever commuted more than 10 minutes to work, and we only had one car for the first seven years of our marriage. I don't know what we'll ever do if we have to really drive.
Malisa said…
Hey FoxyJ! I didn't put all of the peices together when I met you the at the Segullah Studio night. Now I know I've stumbled across you before.

I was just reading back stuff on your interesting blog a bit and came across this post. This strikes a cord in me. This is what I want, but no one I'm around seems to understand it. It's the main reason I want to move to Daybreak in South Jordan. Ah, to walk places. If I ever get to move there, it's agreed that I'd get a Madsen bike. We can dream right?

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