Tuesday, December 29, 2009

Freecycling Rocks!

I'm addicted to freecycling.

OK, maybe "addicted" is a strong word, but my affinity towards this untapped weapon in the war on planned obsolescence just keeps growing by the day.

After the debacle with Freecycle Tiverton/Little Compton, Sara stumbled upon its much-better-off cousin, Freecycle Newport (RI, of course) on Yahoo!. Since then, we've been up and running -- getting stuff we need and giving stuff we don't need a new home. The site boasts over 2,000 members and depending on your preferences when you "join" the group, you can get regular emails with all the new listings. Folks post for things they want, as well as for what they want to give away.

It's been fantastic, having scored a few things for the baby as well as some old greenhouse panels I plan to use building new cold frames in the spring. On the flip side, we've given away everything from an old stairway railing to a weight bench that I'm sorry to say has seen more action from the dust in the basement than me and the dumbbells.

All this freecycling has me thinking on a couple different levels: On the home front, I wonder to what extent we could supply what we need around the house with freecycled goods from others. How's that for a budget-saving strategy?

Much more broadly, imagine what would happen if manufacturing (and all that other supply chain activity) as we know it were to suddenly stop, eliminating any "new" stuff from being produced. Is there enough good "stuff" already out there to provide the masses here in the U.S. with what they need? Maybe -- if folks could reach beyond deep-rooted consumption-laden behaviors and seize back the concept of "need" versus "want". Tack on some fleeting know-how for fixing what's broken (instead of reaching for the garbage barrel) and you might just have a recipe for success.

Of course, that's a bit of hyperbole, but you get the picture.

In any case, the fact still remains that freecycling works, especially when empowered by this lovely thing called the Internet. It's a virtual camaraderie in the fight against the behemoth engine of consumption. And coming off the holiday season, I'm sure we all have a thing or two (or three) that we could pass on in this way.

Monday, December 7, 2009

Saving Suburbia (Part III): Ditching the Car

Over the last few weeks I've been giving a lot of thought to another one of those big(ger) ideas for saving suburbia: alternative transportation options. Or put more simply: Ditching your car/truck in favor of a less-impactful way of getting around town.

"No way," I'm sure you'll say. "Can't be done."

I admit, the idea of a suburban lifestyle sans the car is a tough one to sell. The inherent layout and design of your typical suburban town is self-limiting: Disconnected neighborhoods spread out over a large land area; roads built primarily for four wheels and little else; small pockets of limited economic and business activity that cause consumers to drive long distances to get what they need, when they need it; a general car-centric mentality that's so engrained it's tough to buck.

All that aside, a few things have happened recently around town that do provide a glimmer of hope:
  • News that Stafford and Crandall Roads will be receiving new "Share the Road" signage courtesy of of the RI DOT that aim to raise awareness of and promote bicycle traffic. This is in addition to new signage that was a part of the Main Road corridor improvement work that happened over the summer.
  • Last week's passing of new business zoning regulations that will set the stage for transforming the north end and Bliss Four Corners parts of town into more pedestrian-friendly and inviting community-scapes.
  • Continued development of the new artists' community at Sandy Woods that showcases the effectiveness of mixed-use neighborhood and community design.

Clearly, this will not enable all of us to leave the cars at home and still get things done. But what else do we need? Here are my two-cents:

  • Continued partnering between Town Planning and Economic Development entities that look to shape other pockets of value-added business development in town. Basically, cut down on the distances that people have to travel to secure the necessities of living while promoting local businesses. Start with basics such as food, then go from there with a preference for small, mom-and-pop style endeavors. This could be at the macro, multi-neighborhood level, or in the case of the Sandy Woods project, at the micro, single neighborhood level.
  • Partner with local businesses and/or the town to install bike racks to encourage car-less travel
  • Continue to repair/install sidewalks
  • Renewed enforcement of speed limits and other safe driving behaviors to create a safe environment for walking, biking, etc.
  • Exploration of in-town public transportation (e.g., small-scale bus or shuttle services) to get people to these new town centers
  • Take additional cues from other urban-based transportation planning playbooks
This problem won't be solved overnight and I'm firmly grounded in the reality that we're not going to wake up one morning and not need our cars, but improved suburban transit could benefit us on so many levels: environmental, health, economic and so on.

What about you? Would you ditch your car once or twice a week if the infrastructure was in place?

Sunday, December 6, 2009

November Poll Results; December Poll Launches

Once again, I seem to be about a week behind on the new monthly poll. So it goes...

November's poll tapped into your interest/willingness to go at a really local food diet. While only five people chimed in, 60 percent said they would with the balance split between "maybe" and "no". That's still positive in my book. Looking at all the stuff we picked up at the Pawtucket Farmers' Market yesterday, I'm still convinced that even now, a good part of our diet can come from local producers. I've started compiling listings for a local food guide and hope to be able to share an early version in the coming weeks.

Now for December's poll: Last week's Sakonnet Times reported on the passing of new zoning codes for business in Tiverton. These new codes aim to transform sections of town such as North Tiverton and Bliss Four Corners into replicas of downtown Bristol or Warren (my comparison, not the paper's), with their walkable, more community-friendly approach to integrating store fronts, roadways, sidewalks, and parking. What do you think?