Friday, January 18, 2013

Does Car Dependency Make Us Winter Wimps?

Frozen Beetle.Faced with similarly cold weather, people in suburban southeastern Massachusetts complain even more than people in warmer cities. Is the car culture the difference?

The Green Miles moved from DC to New Bedford last summer and as winter has set in, I've been a little surprised at how much whining I've heard about the cold. When the weather turned cold inside the Beltway, folks would walk into office pulling off their scarves talking about how chilly it was, but with an edge of bravado - "Cold couldn't stop me! Tauntaun froze to death on the way to Metro, but I KEPT GOING."

In this area, there's more of a feeling of dread. While New Bedford's downtown is walkable, there are public buses & lots of people bike, the city and its neighboring towns aren't dense enough to make a car-free diet an option for most people. (The lack of a downtown grocery store doesn't help, either.) Most people make most trips in their cars.

Driving everywhere combines the cold with helplessness - instead of striding out into the cold and warming up as you go, you have to sit there shivering waiting for the car to heat you up. I'm used to layering up and getting ready to show the cold who's boss, but around here, people leave the house wearing only what they need to keep them warm long enough for the car's heat to kick in. It's odd to think of urban folks as more in touch with nature than their suburban counterparts, but in this sense, they are.

And it's not hard to imagine the impact beyond winter - other things the car keeps you sheltered from year-round, whether positive (a new restaurant whose menu you might've liked had you walked by instead of sped past) or negative (graffiti that's easier to ignore from your glass & steel cage).
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