On May 6, 2019, I had the honour of being one of the four speakers in the City Symposium Series – Sustainable Cities and Communities. It was a great experience where I had the opportunity to connect with many like-minded people.
My 12-minute presentation sparked a lot of interest, maybe not as much as the presentation from my co-presenters, but while we wait for the official recording of the event, I’d like to share the presentation and the transcribed notes of my talk entitled Shift Happens!
The talk had four stories and I will share one story at a time here with you.
Kathryn wakes up at 5 a.m. every day. She is super tired, and her 5-year-old daughter is tired too, You see, Kathryn got this great job, it pays really well, she loves what she does, and her co-workers are great. But there’s a catch. It is almost 160km from her home. It’s a 2-hour commute. So they have to leave home extra early and poor Jane – Kathryn’s daughter – is the first to arrive and the last one to leave school every day.
One day, Kathryn got a call from Jane’s school in the middle of the day. Not a good sign. “Your daughter is very sick, she passed out and now she is throwing up. We already called an ambulance. Is she allergic to anything?”. Kathryn replies with a broken voice “No, not that I know of.” The reply from the school “Ok, you should come to see her as soon as possible.” Rushing to the door Kathryn just says “I’m coming.” Her computer is still on and nobody even knows that she left or where she went. She just left.
But Kathryn and Jane still have 160km between them. And during those 2 hours (well it was more like an hour and a half, and $1,000 in speeding tickets) the commute never felt so long, and she never felt so helpless. She started thinking she wouldn’t see Jane again. When she arrived at the kindergarten, Kathryn was crying so much that Jane got scared and worried. “Are you ok mommy?” Kathryn hugs her tight and says, “Yes baby. Now everything is fine.”
Kathryn quits her job on that same day. She struggles for a while to find another job. Eventually, she finds one. It is a good job, although it doesn’t pay as much as the first one. But it’s within walking distance from their house and school, and she now has 4 extra hours every day to spend with her daughter. (based on a story of the book Happy City, Charles Montgomery)
Even though this is a real story – and we all know this situation is pretty believable – some of us might think, “Thank god I don’t have this problem.” However, when we are talking about sustainability, we are trying to design our future based on our current lifestyles. Our choices today bring us closer to the first (long car commutes) or the second scenario (walking to work)? Put it simply: “What moves you?”
There are thousands of stories of people like Kathryn, who live in car-centric cities, who have made the intentional choice of not driving a car every day. You can listen to those stories in Podcasts like Family Pedals, read about them in books like Happy City or witness them at events like Bike minds. But you don’t have to go that far. Here in London Ontario, we have many of these stories. People who raised their kids without a car. People in their fifties who’ve never had a driver’s licence. Do you know people like that? In my case, I stopped driving because I was just a little lost in a new city and I wanted to save some money, but this is a story for another day.