Let me start by making a confession. At my core, I am an automotive enthusiast. I grew up in small town Saskatchewan, a place where muscle cars and old pickup trucks run free like wild horses. In small towns, people know their vehicles like city dwellers know their coffee, and for me this was certainly the case. I’ve repaired and tuned a number of vehicles with my own hands, including a 1976 Dodge D100 half ton with a Slant Six engine, a 1985 Ford F250, and a 1986 Toyota Celica GTS with 2.0 Litre Twin Cam engine. That car was fast. I may or may not have breached 210kms/hour with it.
My point is, I have a long-standing and involved relationship - and dependency - with automotives. Since I’ve moved to Riversdale, however, this has drastically changed and it has been for the better.
I have worked in Riversdale for almost four years and lived here just over two. It’s been an incredible experience. I’m often asked what it’s like living here, and the list of things I appreciate is long. One aspect that really stands out, though, is how little I drive now. Looking back on the last two years of my life, I have noticed four major benefits from choosing to keep my car parked more often. And I believe anyone can reap the benefits of choosing walking or biking over driving, whether you live in Riversdale, Rosewood, or Bora Bora.
1 - Your health will improve
Prolonged sitting is not good for people and their health. Quite a few of us (including me) spend a significant amount of time sitting at work. And using a vehicle to get to work – or anywhere - adds to the total amount of time you spend sitting in a day.
Let’s be honest, a vehicle is basically a comfy chair in a sealed dome on wheels; It’s luxury mobile sitting. Sleep all night, sit all day, lay on the couch, then go to bed. Wash, rinse, repeat. That’s a lot of sitting for a typical person. Our bodies are built to move, so the more you do it, the better. Choosing to walk or bike to get around reduces the total amount of time you spend sitting in a day, and when you get your body is moving and your blood is circulating, this helps keep your mind alert and lifts your mood, thanks to an increased production of dopamine from the exercise walking or biking provides.
2 - Your social connections will expand
So, you’re outside now and moving along. Great. What comes next? What I've discovered is the increased connection to my environment and the people in it. How often do you think you meet people while traveling in vehicle? You don’t. At least not very often.
I meet people on my way to and from work all the time, mainly because Riversdale is peppered with hubs of activity, all clustered together. There are great coffee shops, bus stops, the Farmers' Market, River Landing, and some of the absolute best restaurants in this city at your fingertips.
Riversdale is a diverse place, and these hubs attract and circulate people in the neighborhood, each in their own distinct ways. Bumping into shopkeepers, colleagues, strangers and friends is common and it keeps me connected to the scene. It’s difficult to access these random interactions travelling in a vehicle, because like I said, it’s a sealed dome on wheels. It’s an isolation chamber that keeps you out of the mix, instead of in the thick of it.
3 - You’ll have more cash in your pocket
I think we all appreciate the feeling of saving a hefty chunk of money, right? I know I do, and that’s exactly what happens when the car routinely stays parked. Right away, the benefits from reduced fuel consumption, reduced wear and tear, and reduced depreciation materialize.
A bit to my surprise, Riversdale and Downtown Sasktoon are so walkable that my partner and I chose to downsize from two cars to one. At the outset, I was not in favour of reducing my "freedom" by giving up the second car, but that single decision cut our annual vehicle expenses in half and my time managing that car has been freed up! And it’s no mystery, vehicle ownership is very nice but it is very expensive. All vehicles are veritable black holes that you must regularly throw cash into, never to see it again. Better to keep it in your pocket, I say. Every time I choose to walk to work or downtown, I hear coins dropping in my personal piggy bank to the rhythm of my footsteps. It’s an enjoyable beat.
4 - You will reduce your environmental footprint
This one feels like a no-brainer, because you’re a smart person and you know that not driving means reducing your total greenhouse gas emissions. However, there are peripheral impacts as well. Keeping the car parked means fewer oil changes, you won’t hit the drive-thru as often –fast food is not exactly environmentally friendly anyhow – and if you make a lasting reduction in your vehicle use, you’ll likely purchase fewer vehicles in the course of your lifetime. All of this stacks up to big reductions in your personal carbon footprint. You’ll notice this also means you save money, too.
All in all, these benefits I've outlined are just scratching the surface of the matter, because once you dig deep, crunch the numbers and reflect hard on the question of how much you truly need a vehicle - particularly in an urban neighbourhood - it starts to become clear that vehicle ownership is not a slam-dunk necessity. In many cases, it’s a luxury. That’s why I am excited to see great alternative options cropping up, even right here in Saskatoon. The Saskatoon Car Share Coop is proving to be a great option for many local urban dwellers, in place of owning a vehicle. Currently, they are only operating in Broadway, but rumour has it they’re expanding to serve new areas.
In my mind though, the most interesting approach to tackling the challenges of car ownership is happening at Shift’s latest residential housing project, Element Urban Village. There is a car-share component being directly built into the project. This means that every owner at Element will have access to a communal vehicle, parked right on the property. It gets better, though. The community car will be an EV (electric vehicle) and will be charged using electricity generated from Element’s rooftop solar panels! Need to get groceries? You’re covered. Need to pick a friend up at the airport? No sweat. The tank will always be full, because there is no tank to worry about, and this baby is powered by the sun. Now that’s something worth writing home about.
So, a completely car-free life might be wishful thinking, and vehicle ownership is fairly important for a lot of us, but I am truly excited for the owners who will call Element Urban Village home. Not only will they be living in thoughtfully designed homes in a very diverse, exciting, and walkable neighborhood, but they’ll be within view of MVA trails, the river, and have access to electric wheels when walking or a biking just won’t cut it. The stage is set for a healthy, connected, rich, and very efficient lifestyle. It’s urban living at it’s finest.
See you on the streets!