What car-free vacation spots can teach us about livable communities

A recent exchange on Twitter highlighted the number of middle-class and/or affluent Americans who take advantage of dense, car-free or light destinations for their vacations, and yet resist such a model for their everyday lives. . :

This is something that caught my attention as I returned from a week’s vacation on Bald Head Island, North Carolina. For those unfamiliar, Bald Head is a small community made up mostly of vacation homes and rental properties, and accessible only by ferry, yacht, or (since Hurricane Floyd) by walking across the sand dunes from Ft. Fischer nearby. While some cars and trucks are seen on narrow roads, these are either owned by contractors, vendors or government departments. Almost everyone who lives in or visits Bald Head gets around by bicycle, golf cart, foot or skateboard.

Having spent the week in the Sea Forest on the eastern end of the island, I can report that there are a lot of things to like about the experience:

Pure and calm air: Aside from the occasional squeal of kids squealing with delight over a passing golf cart, traffic noise was almost non-existent. And the air was about as clear and pleasant to breathe as you could imagine. We had no way to access our car, even if we wanted to, and that inherently meant we found things to do closer to “home”, which greatly reduced the environmental impact of our Hobbies.

Convenience: While the common argument against car-free communities is convenience and accessibility, the fact that Bald Head is car-free means services are being put in place to accommodate other modes of travel. It’s only a 10 minute ride to everything you need, and there are places to park your bike or cart wherever you need it. And jumping in a golf cart is definitely more enjoyable than jumping in a stuffy car, especially if your feet are covered in sand.

Freedom: Likewise, while the car is seen by many as a symbol of “freedom”, I was struck by the number of children and teenagers I saw crossing the island without an adult in sight – free to move around as they were safe from traffic and other threats (real or perceived).

Abundant Nature: I’ve spent a lot of time on the beaches of North Carolina, but I’ve never seen so much nature or so much diversity on these trips as on Bald Head. From butterflies fluttering on the dunes to the nests of sea turtles fenced on the beaches, Clearly, both a lack of automotive real estate and a community identity that has embraced conservation – Bald Head Island Conservancy runs a busy program of education and exploration activities – means that it is a space where biodiversity has not been ousted by development.

Human connection: One of the things people don’t realize about car-free travel is how much more connected it makes you feel, not just to the world around you, but to others as well. While our steel crash boxes can keep us from dying on the highway, they also keep us from communicating with others on the road. Whether it’s cyclists on the streets of Amsterdam or golf cart drivers on Bald Head, breaking down barriers between people allows them to negotiate the “rules of the road” in human terms, which means that manners and generosity become much more important than fighting for space. or by strictly respecting the formalities of the highway code.

That said, it would be dishonest to present Bald Head as a direct role model for other communities. One of the main reasons for this is simply to know who can participate. While I thoroughly enjoyed our stay on “the island” (it’s technically not an island anymore since the dunes connected it to Fort Fischer), the trip was financially difficult compared to other city vacations. neighbours. And a quick look around you will tell you that the visitors are whiter and wealthier than the population of North Carolina as a whole.

Of course, whenever I mention equity or justice, I expect comments that we should focus on climate and the environment. Yet the fact is that they are inseparable from each other. Not only is extreme inequality fundamentally unfair and unfair, it also undermines our ability to deliver a low-carbon future. And Bald Head brought this home for me.

The fact is that each of the people who clean the houses, serve the meals or remove the garbage from these vacation homes and businesses have to live somewhere. And at the end of their long days, they took a short golf cart ride to a fossil fuel ferry and then, most likely, a major car ride when they got to the other side.

In many ways, this resembles the inner city “revivals” we see in many small and mid-sized towns across the United States. While it’s great to see more density and activity returning to inner cities, many people who work in the restaurants, stores and salons that make life enjoyable are being sold to the suburbs and beyond. . In my own hometown of Durham, North Carolina, for example, many bike and transit advocates celebrated a significant increase in the cost of downtown parking. And while there are good reasons to do so, local restaurants point out that many of their employees, who can no longer afford to live in downtown Durham, are forced to bear the cost:

Dense, walkable, bikeable, transit-friendly communities are fundamental to a low-carbon future. But as both car-free resorts and revitalized downtowns show us, the carbon benefits will be largely negated unless they are inclusive for everyone.

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