Like many of you, I found Sheila’s article on Tuesday, both motivating and inspirational of the possibilities that exist in a car decentralized world where cycling is numero uno, walking a very close second (and public transit right there). For those who have lived outside of a large public transit system, this may seem incomprehensible (I’m from an area whose citizens don’t see the benefit of a light rail system but thankfully have 50+ miles of flat bike routes).
And while I will focus on Charlottesville to drive home the point, these lessons can be taken anywhere (and I’ll try to incorporate you all too).
Even as a guy self professed to enter the car industry within the next 6 months (because I’m really interested in progressing automotive sustainability), I’m here to tell you that it’s possible here in Charlottesville (and probably other places across the U.S.) to breed a culture like (maybe a long way from rivaling…) our friends in Copenhagen: a large car-less city population, a car-share accessible fringe, and a car population in the rural outskirts where public transit isn’t as efficient.
All it takes is a little bit of motivation, crazy-titled guerrilla-marketed events, understanding (but probably think you are crazy anyways) friends, and an eccentric network of acquaintances.
0. Self Identify
Before you can start any masterful quest to be the next Plarchineer or great Planner in your area, you got to ask yourself these questions:
- Do you enjoy working on projects?
- Love to network?
- Keep your inbox at that magical: (actual screen grab) ?
- Love to serve others?
- When it gets hard and support wanes, will you keep at it?
If you answer yes to most or all, there are plenty of opportunities for you to ignite something larger than yourself, and longer than your time in your area.
1. Find Opportunities to Get Involved!
At UVa, and really any University area if you work just a little harder, there are at least a three dozen other people with an interest in cycling and maybe even more interested in making their surrounding area more efficient and of better use to the community. At UVa, we have this lovely group, Green Grounds, that has been more than a passion of mine for 3 and a half years, with a history of transportation related projects, as well as the Transportation Group of the University Environmental Impact Subcommittee (co-linked with Green Ground for 3 years.)
New to the arena has been BIKE UVA (formerly Velotelier) who have been putting on awesome bike repair demos on bike stations that Green Grounds and UVa Parking and Transportation have helped to place around Grounds.
With more general groups of UVa Sustainability and Student Council Committees in Sustainability, Building and Grounds, Student Life, and Safety & Wellness, there are tons of opportunities for engagement with mobility around Grounds. There are even a plethora of classes in this area one Lou’s List search away.. There are probably tons of other groups that I am missing, but the message is the same, the opportunities are there, it just takes a little bit of energy to reach out and grab them.
Oh and while we’re talking about opportunities, here’s a prideful plug for Sustained Mobility next Thursday at 5:30-7:30 at Open Grounds
(Awesome Flyer designed by Zakk Walker)
Not at a University with an active group?
Start one. Find some people who are interested by posting some (recycled content) flyers about an interest meeting for mobility, or attend a Sustainability group meeting and propose mobility-related projects.
So what about non-Universities?
So, obviously, Universities are the best opportunity for collaborative involvement because of highly motivated people to work with, administrators ultimately held accountable by the student experience, and staff excited to work with students, but don’t let that stop you from transferring these skills to a community. Start with a local civic league to seek people with similar interests, or start your own group! Again, flyer (if possible) or hold a tabling event with friends around a local park to gather other interested people, then head to step 2: expand your reach.
2. Expand Your Reach
So now you’re part of an awesome group of friends (or soon-to-be best friends for life), what you do now?
Networking Events disguised as Social Events
Now, you try to expand your group with even more people by disguising networking events as fun events. It could be as simple as inviting strangers to come learn more about your group, like an interest meeting, or collaborating with a larger local group (like Bike Charlottesville!, Thomas Jefferson Planning District Commission, Charlottesville Parks and Recreation, the Charlottesville Sierra Club) to introduce yourselves and have a fun potluck or activity to disguise the overall value: communication.
When people begin anticipating what your next event title will be, you know you have found a fun medium.
Overall, you want to keep it fun, that’s what will drive people to come. While hungry college students will always succumb to free food, in a community setting, food may not work, so maybe a more social outing or outdoor picnic may be the ticket. Don’t fret if it doesn’t go well the first time, go over what worked, and what needs improvement.
While this advice may seem self-evident, a lot of times the most well-attended events are the ones best executed. Here’s your chance to be fun and well-executed.
Keep it social… over the internet
Part of the greater mission of this blog is to inform a larger community outside of our own, of the projects that we as Green Grounds work on, and what inspires us, as an extension of our Facebook Page that you should already have liked.
While I can’t paint rocks to save my life (sorry Caroline, Aidan, Michelle, others who saw that), I know a thing or two about web engagement: much like real life, keep it simple, keep it fun, and keep it visual.
Tell people about what you are doing!
You are already reading this blog (and countless others like my faves at Inhabitat about cool sustainable things you can do, why not join the conversation? If your group is really cool, others want to know, and the platforms with which to do so couldn’t be any easier to use.
3. Once you’ve gotten to here, keep making it better
Pretty soon, your group members will become your best friends and your best friends will become larger supporters of your group. With a little bit of reach, and couple of small projects on your belt, like a bike station project, or suggested improvements to bike lanes, you can start reaching out to the local government level (or University administrators) to plan larger projects.
Maybe you can convince your local area to start a MindMixer project to crowd source ideas for small improvements to mobility around the community like this, probably a topic with a future blog post by myself right here, or a larger community event or 5K to get people moving and use a car less. Maybe even a ZipCar promotion (or similar car sharing service if applicable to your area like it is here) to share wheels for trips not currently bikeable or easily transited.
You’ve been really great in staying with this post this long
In the end, with a little bit of work, you can begin to take small steps at UVa (or your area) to make it friendlier, healthier, and cleaner. Next time, I’ll be talking about bikes and how to get over hills as your source of cycling-denial (people who love and support cycling can engage in cycling safely for themselves and for others too, I promise!) as well as outcomes from Sustained Mobility!