“You can be anything you want to be.” That was the sugar-coated, media-thrown grenade lobbed my way from my snot-nosed childhood through my university years. It didn’t take long to realise how wrong that inspirational phrase really was.
There are many ways in which I cannot be what I want to be. Thanks to banal urban design and car-centric infrastructure it is proving difficult to be “anything I want to be.” I don’t want to be dependent on a car but North America’s reliance on car ownership makes effectively functioning in society that much more difficult. Sure, I could move to Toronto, Vancouver or Halifax; places where transit and walkability range from great to serviceable. But is moving to a relatively big city the answer? I hope not.
For now, my wife and I are making the most of living in Niagara without owning a personal car. It’s proving to be difficult, really difficult. With the farmers’ market closed four days of the week, the trek for fresh veggies and fruits requires more mobility than two feet for anyone who can’t make those times. Sadly, the local transit works best as a metaphor for getting nowhere in life. Everyone we meet is bewildered about how we get by without a car. The dearth of public transit infrastructure has even stifled my work. A potential client contacted me looking for help but because neither of us own cars it was nearly impossible for me to help them out.
So, why don’t we just buy a car? Though we realize we could buy a car, the thing is, our generation is not looking to purchase cars. This is a fundamental trend that planners must consider. As we progress and cities grow, we will be looking to more sustainable, public and accessible transportation options. Niagara wonders why it can’t keep its graduates – it’s not just the lack of jobs, it’s also the car-centric infrastructure that stifles our transportation.
I’d like to be carless and successfully engage in work and sustainable food choices but the region’s failure to prioritize a citizen-centric infrastructure is frustrating. I’m nearing the point of joining the exodus from Niagara to urban centres that are actively working to update their designs to meet the needs of their future leaders and citizens.