Car-free living — back to location, and a quick word on the benefits of cars

Charlottesville Downtown Pedestrian Mall
CC BY-SA 3.0 Zachary Shahan

Wrapping up this series on car-free living, I'm compelled to come back to the issue of location. Also, I think it's important to note that car-free living isn't for everyone, and there are some important benefits to cars that I was never trying to overlook or belittle.

Also, it hit me that not everyone has had drilled into their head an important point I learned in my city planning master's degree studies. If you are in the majority and don't often move, you might think that few people do. However, a considerably 24% of Americans "reported moving from their city or area in the past five years" in a 2013 Gallup poll. That's similar to any other year in recent history. Moving is quite common in the US, so there are a lot of you who could likely choose a more pedestrian-, bike-, and/or transit-friendly location within the coming years.

Cities vs the country vs towns, and back to "location, location, location"

One reader noted on my first post in this series:

You've lived in nice, crowded cities. No thanks. I prefer a country lifestyle where I can recycle everything and not have trash service. We grow our own food, have solar panels to charge our electric car, and have turned our old farm into a wildlife refuge.

Besides the obvious benefits of country living, too many people drive me absolutely nuts.

I would never call Chapel Hill, Carrboro, Charlottesville, or Groningen crowded cities. The governments of the first two actually still call themselves towns, and Groningen often felt like a small town to me because of how few cars were on the roads, but I guess everything is relative.

This comment and a few others also brought an important point to my mind: there have been similarities in some of the places I've lived, but there have also been big differences. I thought the original article was useful precisely because of the variety of places in which I've lived car-free. Sure, some have a nice climate, but others don't. Sure, one is a fairly dense city, but the others aren't. Sure, some are small college towns, but not all of them. Each have their upsides when it comes to a car-free lifestyle, and I've played to those. Aside from picking places with some upsides (when I had a choice), I also then picked homes within those cities that could take advantage of the options available.

Part of the thing is not moving to a horribly sprawling city built around the car, and not living way out in the country. If you decide to do one of those things for various reasons, it is very hard to go car-free. I'm not denying that at all. And I'm not saying that you've messed up if you choose to live in such a place. That's a personal matter, and many important issues come into play.

However, the other thing is choosing a place within the city you live that is in a good location. Nowadays, there are tools to help with that, like Walk Score, which rates locations based on walkability, bikeability, and transit-friendliness.

Benefits of cars

Of course, there are benefits to cars. There are a few reasons why so many cars are in use every day, and some of those reasons are certainly very practical ones.

Furthermore, living without a car isn’t a decent option for many people, which is one reason I write so passionately about electric cars.

However, I do think that a ton of people think that they need to own a car when they really don’t. It’s hard to imagine an alternative when you haven’t genuinely tried it. I was in that boat for years, thinking that I needed a car. Luckily, someone came along and turned me on to the car-free alternative I fell in love with, helping me to realize how possible (and enjoyable) it really is. Hopefully my story will do the same for a few of you.

Thanks for "tuning in." Check out the first four articles in this series here:

The #1 factor that has allowed me to live car-free easily and pleasurably for 10 years

Car-free living with a partner & kids

Car-free living in the cold... and the heat

Car-free living — meeting with friends

Tags: Bike-Friendly World | Biking | Public Transportation | Urban Life | Urban Planning | Walking