Monday, September 10, 2007

A Workshop, an Art Show, and a Thoughtful Survey

Workshop: I'm pleased that the Southern California Women's Caucus for Art has invited me to present a workshop entitled "Creativity and Clutter: Clear the Chaos and Make Room for Your Imagination." It's scheduled for Sunday afternoon, September 16th, and will be open to the public as well as to SCWCA members. More details are available here. The workshop is geared toward visual artists, but much of the material we'll be discussing applies to people who work in any creative field. If you'll be in Los Angeles and decide to attend, please introduce yourself to me as a reader of The Thoughtful Consumer blog.

Art Show: I'm also pleased to be participating in a special art show in Atlanta at 310Haustudio, the studio of fine artist Diane Hause. The Peace Postcard Show is in honor of the International Day of Peace, September 21st, with an opening reception scheduled that evening from 7 to 10 p.m. Diane has received postcards from artists all over the world, including some famous names you'd recognize, such as Yoko Ono and Sean Ono Lennon. Most of the artists have designated that proceeds from the sale of their art be donated to organizations dedicated to fostering peace throughout the world. I won't be able to attend the reception, but if you're in the area, please stop by and enjoy what should be a wonderful, uplifting show. If you purchase my postcard, you'll receive instructions to contact me so that I can make a donation in your name to the charitable peace organization of your choice.

A Thoughtful Survey: I recently received e-mail from a regular reader of this blog who is a doctoral student at a respected U.S. university. He's interested in how the structure of a city is related to the physical activity and health of its residents. To gather useful data on the topic, he's conducting a survey on transportation preferences to find why people use the form of transportation they do. If you'd like to participate in his survey, you must be at least eighteen years old and you must work outside your home. The survey takes about fifteen minutes and your responses are completely anonymous: no signing up for a website, no name or e-mail address required. Here's the link. I've requested to be informed when the study is complete so that I can share the conclusions with you.

I think this is a worthy project. Our reliance on private rather than public transportation is a significant factor that must be examined when considering our over-consumption of fossil fuels, but I particularly like the fact that this study is going to examine the relationship between transportation choices and our health as individuals. Obviously, if making use of public transportation became the norm, it could drastically reduce the effects of fossil fuels on the environment and completely transform our landscape. But transforming our cities so that walking and biking are encouraged could change us personally. And yet, in cases where these options are already available, why don't many of us choose them?

As a resident of Los Angeles, surviving without a car would be almost impossible for me. Almost. The reality is that it simply would dramatically restrict my options. However, my life is already restricted to some small extent because the traffic is so horrible that many areas of the city might as well be on the moon if I try to get there during rush hour.

And yet, how often do I hop in my car and drive a block to the grocery store? Too often, I'm embarrassed to say. How hard would it be to pull my little clattering rolling cart down the block and walk back home with all the groceries I need? Weather permitting, not hard at all. And I'm not alone when I make this kind of decision. Why don't many of us walk regularly to accessible places anymore?

Is it possible that our consumer mentality is so ingrained that it is making us reluctant to exert even minimal physical effort? Are we just used to the ease of taking in whatever we need without moving: watching TV; staring at our cell phones and reading text messages; sitting at the computer where we can work, communicate with friends and strangers, and get lost in all the content on the web. Have we disconnected from our bodies in a fundamental way? As a society, we're generally overweight, we're generally sedentary, and our social communities often exist primarily in cyberspace. How much of this is a result of technology, how much reflects larger societal changes, and how much is a function of the physical structures of our external environments, our cities and towns?

Okay, I'm willing to take personal responsibility for my choices, but does this city's design, which is on the whole unfriendly to pedestrians and only half-heartedly supports public transportation, contribute to my habit of driving everywhere? Probably. At least that would be the contention of the late William H. Whyte whose classic book, The Social Life of Small Urban Spaces, I found revolutionary when I read it back in 1980. Several years ago, it was re-published and is now readily available. I recommend it highly as a thought-provoking read about the relationship between urban design and the people who inhabit urban areas.

But today, after hours of sitting at the computer, I think even the insightful Professor Whyte would suggest that I should just get up and move.

And so I shall.

(c) 2007 Cynthia Friedlob


Sunny said...

Great post. Learning to walk more instead of just jumping into our cars I think is part of the process in becoming a thoughtful consumer. My husband and I only have one car and for us it works quite well. I do however only live 1.5 miles from my office round-trip. Little reason, even in Oregon rain, to not walk or ride my bike. But what about last night when I wanted to pick something up from a fellow Freecycler - it was only 0.29 miles one way. I really wanted to just drive because it was 8:00, hot and I was tired. However, I made myself because it was so close and the dog wanted a walk. Felt good afterwards but it's so hard and I want to change. How do we encourage those who don't want to change?

Cynthia Friedlob said...

Good for you for deciding to walk to your Freecycle meet up! Special acknowledgement and a pat on the head should be given to your dog, the primary motivator!

Encouraging other people to change and acting on our own desire to change our behavior is a huge challenge. I'm pretty convinced that it calls for self-discipline (ugh) for us to get our own acts together. I'm completely convinced that changing the behavior of large groups and entire societies requires p.r. to change our perceptions.

Look at how we've changed our perception of smoking and how that's affected our societal behavior. It used to be cool to smoke -- think Frank Sinatra and the Rat Pack. Now it's not cool. Sure, some people still smoke, but not in the fanciest restaurants in town. It's not even legal to smoke in many public places. And smoking is an addictive behavior, the most difficult type to change.

I'm hopeful that there's a way to change our behavior regarding transportation, too, but that requires personal efforts (get off the couch!) as well as societal efforts to create friendly environments that support walking and biking. As I understand it, Oregon is a leader in that area, so at least you're in a good location!