Wednesday, August 5, 2015

How you live -- miles to go before you sleep

My slightly obsessive record keeping makes it easy for me to answer today's bioregional quiz question, a two-parter.

What is the mpg of your vehicle?
How many miles per year does it travel?

Southwestern Minnesota fields
Southwestern Minnesota fields
Photo by J. Harrington

Cumulatively, since the day I bought it, my Outback has averaged 28 mpg, 2 to 3 less during Winter and as many more in Summer. Yearly mileage has dropped significantly since I'm no longer working at a job that requires travel to all four corners of Minnesota. The first year I owned this Outback, I drove about 35,000 miles. Now it's closer to 15,000 (with a corresponding drop in my carbon footprint). Curious about how that compares to others in My Minnesota, I searched and found this report by the good folks at the Center for Rural Policy and Development. They raise some points that, at first thought, don't seem to neatly fit withe the old "drive 'til you qualify" approach to housing, nor do they seem to align automatically with the Center for Neighborhood Technology's Housing + Transportation Affordability Index. I agree that housing affordability needs to take into account trade-offs with transportation costs, but I wonder if we also need to take a further hard look at central place theory and some other systemic factors. If we are going to be successful at disbursing concentrated affordable housing, we have to look at transportation costs. If we are going to be successful at making workforce housing affordable and available, we have to look at regional economic patterns and activity. We also need better metrics so we can tell if we're being successful.

Northeastern Minnesota woods
Northeastern Minnesota woods
Photo by J. Harrington

Back to the questions and answers. Clearly, I drove more than the average miles per year in a vehicle that got better than average mpg. Do you think if we all converted to electric vehicles, powered by renewable energy, anyone would care about any of these factors except $ per mile driven. That then gets us to the relative effects of fixed (vehicle and insurance) versus variable (maintenance and electricity) costs. It might also get us a lot closer to a zero carbon economy. The technology seems to be there, but the public policy and subsidies we need to change are probably going to require huge battles against entrenched interests. We need to win those battles and learn better how to align our home planet's interests and our own so we can avoid voting against either. Have you read This Changes Everything? It's out in paperback. Try it, you'll like it.

Twin Cities new St. Croix Bridge
Twin Cities new St. Croix Bridge
Photo by J. Harrington

"Green building" can get us part way to where we need to be, but too many green buildings are in locations where it takes an inordinate amount of energy to get occupants to the building. Not exactly light Summer reading, but definitely worth at least a look if you're interested in improving the alignment of your interests with Gaia's are:
  • A Pattern Language, Christopher Alexander -- look especially at his thoughts on Towns.
  • Design with Nature, Ian McHarg -- will we ever learn not to pave over aquifer recharge areas? And, not to be missed,
  • Planet Drum, Peter Berg -- Bioregionalism

Driving Through

By Mark Vinz 
This could be the town you’re from,
marked only by what it’s near.
The gas station man speaks of weather
and the high school football team
just as you knew he would—
kind to strangers, happy to live here.

Tell yourself it doesn’t matter now,
you’re only driving through.
Past the sagging, empty porches
locked up tight to travelers’ stares,
toward the great dark of the fields,
your headlights startle a flock of
old love letters—still undelivered,
enroute for years.


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