A few of you know that I lost my car in a freak incident of nature back in December and have been doing without one since. There have been a few downsides, but the upside is that I have been forced to be a true bike and public transportation commuter again. Last Tuesday I had planned to meet with the entrepreneurship group I love in Raleigh - Advancing Women Entrepreneurs –awesome ladies at various stages of starting their businesses who regularly come together for support and to learn something new. I saw that the bus to Raleigh didn’t run at the time I needed to head to the city but the Amtrak did. Google Maps claimed that it would get me there in 30 minutes where the bus usually takes 1-1h45m. AND the Amtrak would deliver me to the overly cool warehouse district, 2 blocks from my meeting.
The optimist in me thought “Wonderful! I’ve always wanted to try commuting by train in the Triangle.” I packed my lunch and rode my bike to the train station. It was almost deserted. When I purchased the ticket the man at the counter told me that it was running 25 minutes behind. Oh boy. I asked him if it usually arrived on time. He gave me the sort of noncommittal answer that said, “usually never”. I paid more than 2x the cost of a bus ticket and arrived 20 minutes late to my meeting. Commuting by train in the Triangle, not yet possible.
What I did get was more time for reflection. What a shame, I thought. The Earth is quite literally melting, we have enormous growth in the Triangle and the train, which has very convenient stops in downtown Durham, Cary and Raleigh, is not dependable as a form of transportation for anyone but the retired, or leisurely moneyed travelers.
You get a different perspective from the train windows. There is forest and then tracks of newly developed housing. Lot of driveways, lots of roads, few bike paths, less and less real greenery. More development taking us in the wrong direction. As I passed this scenery I took in an article on an artist, Terry Therion, who was alarmed that the frogs croaked less around her house than in the past. Upon discovery that they are critically endangered she started painting them to remind people that they are worth saving and started hosting collaborative shows with other artists.
I thought about growth. I thought about health. I thought about the environment. If it were safe for people to ride their bikes for transportation, and the trains worked properly, cities could grow, frogs and humans could coexist and both would be healthier. A bit simplistic, I know, but you get the idea. Growth in and of itself is not bad, just the growth we’ve become accustomed to. The local foods market has expanded. A quarter of all consumers were buying local foods in 2013, up from 13 percent in 2007 (1) (I’d bet that number is still rising). That’s growth, but it actually helps the environment, small businesses, and peoples’ health.
We can think about the amount of young people who are forgoing their licenses, only 60 percent of 18-year-olds had a drivers’ license in 2014, compared to 80 percent in 1983 (2). They are the largest generation in US history, but their growth is having a different impact. There are lots of reasons for this, but one is that they are taking more public transportation, riding their bikes and walking more (3).
We can think about all the new businesses popping up around us which work with the natural environment and people and not against it. Walk through any area in Hipsterville, USA and you see local foods, breweries, boutiques with sustainable, local products, urban gardening stores with all manner of containers to add greenery to every nook and cranny of your apartment, urban bee keeping, bicycles, art and music that reminds us of what’s important, upcylced everything. We can make fun of these trends till the cows come home but the reality is that they point to something extremely exciting for green progress. The subtext of these communities reads: 1) It is cool to have the people and natural environment (animals, bugs, plants etc.) be valued in all work that is created; 2) Products and services that work with this idea are actually better than those that don’t 3) We no longer value products and services that don’t get this.
I started down the entrepreneurial path because I do strongly believe that businesses have the power to change the world. Henry Ford changed America. Our entire society restructured around his innovation. The optimist in me anticipates pioneering green entrepreneurs who will put in motion similarly seismic shifts in American lifestyle, ones that make us healthier by helping Americans shift their lifestyle towards one that improves their physical and mental health and the health of their environment.
We can focus on the ups and downs of the stock market, the never-ending greed and deceit of the fat cat businessman, and the small shifts in our “economic growth” or we can look around and see that small seeds are blooming everywhere. Spring in here.
1) 2015 U.S. Grocery Shopper Trends. Food Marketing Institute. http://www.fmi.org/
2) Recent Decreases in the Proportion of Persons with a Driver’s License across All Age Groups. Michael Sivak and Brandon Schoettle. The University of Michigan Transportation Research Institute. Jan 2016. http://www.umich.edu/~umtriswt/PDF/UMTRI-2016-4_Abstract_English.pdf
3) Transportation and the New Generation: Why Young People Are Driving Less and What It Means for Transportation Policy. Benjamin Davis and Tony Dutzik. Frontier Group. 2012. http://www.frontiergroup.org/reports/fg/transportation-and-new-generation#sthash.1i9Bf6pz.dpuf