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Monday, December 06, 2010

A Few Thoughts on Lifestyle

I would have to say that one of the most important aspects of my life is how I live my day-to-day life. If I repeat myself you'll have to excuse me but it's an important matter. How do I effect the things that we must do on an almost daily basis? As I have said many times, I haven’t driven an automobile in over four years. It has been over 12 years since I depended on an automobile to go to work or for any aspect of my daily living. I have lived in an urban setting during all this time and all of my needs can be met either on foot or by bicycle. For me, this has made all the difference.

This seems like a trivial matter here in Spain where many of my friends don’t own cars. The same was true in downtown Seattle where I knew many adults who had never had a driver’s license.  I would say that most Spaniards live this sort of urban life where everything they need is just downstairs from their apartment.  For American suburbanites the idea of a car-less existence is almost unfathomable.  Here in Valencia with its excellent system of public transportation within the city and superb trains for reaching outside destinations, an automobile is truly a caprice for most citizens, like owning a jet ski or a snowmobile.  Driving in the city is more of a nuisance than a convenience yet lots and lots of people insist on taking their car for short trips. As I have mentioned before, driving a car is more of a declaration of middle class status than a transportation option.

There are a lot of other things that make life here in Valencia incredibly pleasant. The weather is truly amazing. You can bank on the fact that in any given week you will have at least four days of beautiful sunshine. There are huge swaths of the calendar year that are blanketed with cloud-free days. Our temperatures are the best in the mainland of the peninsula: it is warmer here in the winter and not nearly as hot as other parts of Spain in the summer. We recently went through a cold streak where the thermometer dropped to just about freezing but now it’s back up to lows of about 10 degrees (50 Fahrenheit).  As much as I love the weather here I know that weather isn’t such a big factor in my happiness scale. I actually loved the weather in Seattle. I loved the rain and the dark months of winter. Granted, the weather in Seattle is much better than everyone who doesn’t live there thinks but it can’t compare to the Mediterranean.

What is important to me is living in a place that is designed and made primarily for human beings and not automobiles.  Cars aren’t an extension of ourselves; many people just seem to take this for granted. As far as I am concerned, if the automobile is absolutely necessary for you to carry out normal everyday life then your environment is poorly planned. The amount of daily driving required of many suburbanites is completely insane.  I have visited more cemeteries than parking lots in the past several years; make what you will of my comparison.  You rarely even see a parking lot in Valencia as most parking is underground where it should be. Is there anything uglier than a parking lot or any anything more deserving to be buried?

Most people living in suburbia simply can’t imagine any other way to live. The idea of owning a single family home is embedded in the consciousness of most Americans and the horrible downside of this type of lifestyle is almost never articulated. The downside is that this sort of living takes up a lot of space which requires the use of a car to get around. If everyone is driving you need a lot more room to store the vehicles when they are dormant. Parking and roads take up an incredible amount of space in the suburban environment.  Traffic soon becomes a problem, even in the smallest communities. Building more roads only makes traffic worse as road engineers have known for decades, a phenomena known as “induced traffic.” Every time you are in your car you have to wonder if the trade-off for your house with a yard is worth it. To me it never was. With a bigger house and more space you need more shit to fill up that space. It never ends unless you purposely put an end to it by not playing the game.

I will leave you with a couple of paragraphs taken from bicycleuniverse.info:

The mechanism at work behind induced traffic is elegantly explained by an aphorism gaining popularity among traffic engineers: "Trying to cure traffic congestion by adding more capacity is like trying to cure obesity by loosening your belt." Increased traffic capacity makes longer commutes less burdensome, and as a result, people are willing to live farther and farther from their workplace. As increasing numbers of people make similar decisions, the long-distance commute grows as crowded as the inner city, commuters clamor for additional lanes, and the cycle repeats itself. This problem is compounded by the hierarchical organization of the new roadways, which concentrate through traffic on as few streets as possible.

The phenomenon of induced traffic works in reverse as well. When New York's West Side Highway collapsed in 1973, an NYDOT study showed that 93 percent of the car trips lost did not reappear elsewhere; people simply stopped driving. A similar result accompanied the destruction of San Francisco's Embarcadero Freeway in the 1989 earthquake. Citizens voted to remove the freeway entirely despite the apocalyptic warnings of traffic engineers. Surprisingly, a recent British study found that downtown road removals tend to boost local economies, while new roads lead to higher urban unemployment. So much for road-building as a way to spur the economy. 


  1. Yes, it would be nice not to depend on a car, or have everything walking distance and on hand. On the other hand being able to open your front door and step on your own piece of land, go to your garden and pick fresh veggies for your salad or sit naked in your yard those are the comforts us suburbanites have. Would love to have the best of the two worlds.

  2. Unfortunately you can't have both. Valencia is a city of about one million people and you can walk from one side of the city to the other in probably less than an hour. I used to live in city with 1/10 the population and more area than Valencia. Population density means less land, fewer roads, less of a burden on the environment--besides, city life is fantastic!

  3. "or sit naked in your yard"

    Junk in your yard might prompt neighbor complaints.

  4. awwww, that's not very nice of you!


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