Thursday, November 20, 2008

A Touch of Honesty.

Canadian City Planner Linda Allen has a dirty secret. Everyday she works to advocate more transit use, cycling instead of driving and every other effort to support sustainability. Her secret? She loves to drive.

Almost daily, I promote smart growth - alternative transportation choices, reduced greenhouse gases, increased housing densities.

It's my business to help Canadians understand and adapt to a future that is different from the past. I am a 21st-century city planner.

Along with fellow futurists, I advocate less vehicle travel, more cycling and transit use, smaller cars and sensible energy consumption. The terms "eco-density," "high-occupancy vehicles" and "environmental footprint" are common currency.

By day I'm committed to radical societal change. But my lifestyle is suspect because I really like to drive. Mostly by myself. Pedal to the metal. Wide-open spaces. No boundaries. Zoom, zoom, zoom.

It doesn't matter whether the vehicle is turbocharged, comes with a GPS or has leather seats. It just needs to be peppy and have a tight turning radius. It's about the essential pleasure of driving, regardless of make, model or colour.

I understand the disconnect between the extravagant past and our frugal future. My lifestyle is unsustainable and I need to change my patterns. But I subtly resist the shift. Perhaps it's the curse of the baby boomers. For our generation, driving has been a lifelong love affair, one that isn't easily surrendered.

My formative years were spent cruising small-town Ontario on sweltering summer nights in my mother's flashy turquoise convertible. A few years later, I was circumnavigating North America in a Volkswagen "shagging wagon."

As a responsible adult, driving became shuttling giggling, gossiping children to preschool, dance lessons and soccer tournaments in an all-purpose passenger van. But whenever possible it also meant navigating 16-lane California highways. Zipping through European roundabouts. Pushing through Albertan blizzards. Always plotting the next trip, whether 200 or 2,000 kilometres.

In my planning classes I've always found this hilarious. I cram into a room of 60 students, learn about the importance of reducing our carbon footprint and living green, then watch as 59 other students walk out of the class, across the a parking lot. Although funny, it's concerning that even those who are well-educated in the perils of the oil crisis, the coming effects of global warming, the horrors of car-living and suburban sprawl still cannot give up their cars.