This last Friday I had to take my car to the shop since the smell of burning oil* and the smoke coming from under the hood were unmistakable sings that something was wrong. Long story short, my car now has a new oil tank gasket and several hoses, and I am a few hundred bucks poorer. It hurt my wallet, I won’t lie, but at least I had the means to pay for the repair, rather than keep driving the car as it was, risking making things worse. But dang, I swear that every time I have to fork out money to fix the car, I find myself wishing that I didn’t need it.
For about a year and a half, I actually went car-free. It wasn’t necessarily by choice, but it was a conscious decision once I realized I couldn’t fix the car I had without spending a fortune I did not have. At the time I was going to nursing school, and between public transport and my bicycle, I made it work just fine. Not to say there weren’t some inconvenient moments, but overall it was a positive experience. But then my life changed, I moved from Miami to Orlando, and I needed a car once more. That’s when I got my current car, Serenity (pictured above), a 2007 Chrysler Sebring that has been a very trusty vehicle.
I like my car, don’t get me wrong. I named it Serenity because it represented freedom at a time when I desperately needed it, and together we traveled a good chunk of the eastern half of the States. There was a time when I was gung-ho anti-car, but that’s not me anymore. Cars serve a purpose, especially in the sprawled cities of Florida. I feel for those that have to navigate life in these cities via the terrible public transportation we have across the state. So yes, I like my car, I just wish I didn’t need it. Cars are expensive hunk of metal that hold little value over time and demand increasing amounts of upkeep money as a sacrifice.
I’m a big fan of New Urbanism, “an urban design movement which promotes environmentally friendly habits by creating walkable neighborhoods containing a wide range of housing and job types (Wikipedia).” In plain English, New Urbanism promotes walkable environments where people can live, work, and play in close proximity. I’ve lived in communities where this was a reality (or very close it) and I’ve absolutely loved them. They provided the perfect combination between walking and using my bicycle to navigate daily life in my neighborhood, and using the car for longer trips venturing beyond my community. As my wife and I continue to think about where we’d like to set down roots, the principles of New Urbanism greatly inform what I’m looking for.
But this isn’t where I live now. Right now I live in a city where to be without a car would be undesirable given the ridiculous distances between things. Orlando is a suburban paradise slowly taking over three entire counties, orbiting the tourist sun that is Disney and nearby attractions. The metro growing at an accelerated rate, apartments and houses popping up like concrete weed while our highways exist in a constant state of construction trying to keep pace with population and vehicular volumes that grow exponentially and twice as fast as roads are repaired, expanded, and created.
We have a couple of oases in this suburban kudzu, most notably the town of Celebration, Disney’s crown jewel of New Urbanism, where even at the most distant point within town limits, it is an easy stroll to main street and the commercial area therein, as well as to all other civic institutions and services. In an area where real estate is laughably expensive as it is, Celebration’s square footage makes luxury gated enclaves seem affordable, and people pay for it in order to have the small town feel Disney worked so hard (and so successfully) to fabricate.
Alas, not all of us can live in Celebration, so it’s suburbia for the great majority, and that includes the need for a car. So for now I fork over whatever is needed to keep the car running, and keep looking for a place where my dreams of car-light living can come true.
* For the Twin Peaks fans in the crowd, this didn’t mean that a portal to the Black Lodge had opened up in my car’s engine, thankfully.