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GREENINGS: More greenspace, fewer cars (Apr. 2021)

May 12th, 2021 · No Comments

Let’s not go back to unhealthy “normal”

By Terri Chu

While we all wait for vaccines to bring us back to some sense of “normal” (don’t hold your breath as the variants might beat us at this game), let’s take a moment to reflect on how much normal really sucked: for so many Torontonians, “normal” meant sitting in the car for hours just to get to work. 

Despite six decades of warnings, we have not managed to get a hold on atmospheric climate change. 

The promise of cheap energy was supposed to free us of our labour and give us time to enjoy ourselves. 

Instead, we got busier and used that cheap energy to move further and drive longer distances. Hopefully a “new normal” that starts with working from home can reverse this trend. 

Slowing down, if we can pull it off, will be bad for an unsustainable economic system dependent on infinite growth and consumption, but the reality is that none of us will suffer an iota when it comes to our standards of living. In fact, we will enjoy what we have much more of and free ourselves from the pointless grind of consumption, garbage creation and sitting in traffic. 

We will be able to focus on our interactions with others, our experiences, and physical and mental health. A post-COVID-19 economy based on people, not stuff, is possible, but none of this is feasible without massive investments in transportation. As we discovered during lockdown, we don’t need very much stuff at all to meet our basic needs, and the thing we missed more than anything is social interaction, not material accumulation.

Social interactions, experiences, physical and mental health activities mean that we need to get around, both within the city and outside of it. Doing it all by car will simply get us back to the choked-up world of traffic congestion: this is not the normal we want. 

We need to get people out of cars for short distances, particularly for things like grocery and errand runs. 

What is stopping us from having publicly available light vehicles (think glorified golf cart) for small grocery runs? Vehicles that are lightweight, not terribly fast, not terribly dangerous (unlike cars) and relatively easy to operate could decrease so many short trips currently made by car. 

Where are the city-run cargo bikes at the bike share? Why is transit still so expensive? 

Taking your family for brunch by car will cost pennies for gas since there is so much free street parking, but would cost you over $20 in public transit fees.  

Imagine a Toronto with such decreased traffic that we could reclaim roads for green and public spaces. 

Instead of yelling at our children to watch for cars the moment they step out the door, we could turn our backs and let them run into community gardens or a local piazza the moment the door opens. 

We have come to normalize so much going to the car that we can no longer imagine what life could be like if we didn’t give up so much space to these murderous polluters. 

COVID is a perfect opportunity for us to rethink our car-centric society and build a better future. Normal was awful, and we don’t want to go back to it, but unless we put money into building a society that will support our need for human interactions, experiences, and recreation, that’s what we’re stuck with.

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Tags: Annex · Life