Tuesday, August 4, 2009

The value of belonging

I've lived in New York City for much of my life. I've also spent time in a few other large cities, and on some college campuses. On the other hand, I've lived in a few small American cities, and some rural areas. I've also traveled to a fairly wide variety of locations around the world. I haven't seen everything by any means, but I've seen a lot of different ways of living.

I've owned or rented a car in some of these places, but most of the time I've been carfree. I've been thinking lately that there's a big contrast between the way I feel when I'm in a place like Woodside or Park Slope, and the way I feel when I'm in a place like Raleigh or Phoenix. It's about belonging.

I actually started out this post thinking that it was about being in a majority, and I went looking for lists of places by car ownership, but I've realized that that's not it. It's about being part of a group, about being understood.

I went to college in a town where less than fifteen percent of the households were carfree, but the campus was a fairly self-contained place, and most of the students lived carfree. But even when I was off-campus, the university was a major force in the town, so most of the people had encountered carfree students, and a significant amount of public resources were dedicated to us.

It can be a pain to be in a minority of any kind, especially a less-powerful one. Needless to say, being in a hated minority (like "poor people" or "Black people") is much worse. And sharing a category (like "people without cars") with a hated minority can be bad too, even if you're not part of that hated minority.

I wanted to be carfree, and I moved back to New York in part because carfree people are the majority here. And it's worth it, even when the elite minority pretend that we don't exist. But if I couldn't live here, I'd be able to stand living in a place where we were a recognized minority with some power. And if I couldn't be in a place like that, I'd rather be in a place where people at least understand that some others live without cars, even if they hate us. Anything's better than being ignored.

I think that that is essential to getting more people to live without cars. First, recognize that they do, then give them some power. But being the majority is the best.

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