Family Values

National Public Radio just this morning posted a set of interviews with parents who want their kids to get more exercise. What with childhood obesity rates ballooning in this country, this is (belatedly) becoming a meme.

What is particularly heartening about this radio segment is the comparison they made: between an “LA mom” who ports her kids about in a car from playdate to playdate, and a pair of Portland families who travel primarily (and in one case only) by foot and bicycle.

Listen to the episode, or read the transcript or summary, here.

Even the Portland family that owns two cars almost never uses them. Why? Because in Portland the city has a history of building access into neighborhoods, and providing good transit and excellent bike lanes that allow folks to opt out of driving.

Freedom of choice.

In cities such as LA, there is what I call a structural mandate to drive; the environment has been designed to favor driving and exclude all other modes.

This is destroying us. Emissions aside, even cars that ran on magic would ruin the land, the economy, and our city’s cultures. The sedentarism ruins your health, the physical and social isolation degrade your mind and soul, and the insatiable demand of car culture for more room pushes aside all other uses from a staggering proportion of the city’s land surface. Something over half of Los Angeles is devoted to freeways, roads, and parking, areas where nothing but driving or parking can take place.

Portland, by contrast, makes room for you to be human, to be productive, to be healthy, and to live well.

And it’s still lousy compared with Amsterdam or Copenhagen!

Still, Los Angeles is getting better, however slowly. (As LADOT Senior Bicycle Coordinator Michelle Mowery told me when I interviewed her in 2010, “You know we are a very big animal, we are the Queen Mary, and we’ve just begun the turn.”)

That picture at the top? I snapped it in Los Angeles, on Larchmont Boulevard. Where hordes of people streamed down the streets and sidewalks of the surrounding neighborhoods on foot and on bikes, smiling and chatting on their way to the famous shopping street, and its plethora of bike racks.

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