[Holiday Leftovers] Confessions of a Former Sprawl Addict

[Originally run Jan. 15, 2010] Hi, my name is Hazel, and I’m an addict.

For the last 25 years, I’ve been addicted to a string of takers. Time-draining, money-grubbing, fat-building, resource-depleting, toxic machines. For the last 18 months, I’ve been clean. Ever since our move to Canada. And this last weekend, I realized I may be cured.

That’s right, when we moved here 18 months ago, I decided to get rid of my car. This past weekend, my in-laws offered me their sweet little Audi on loan as they fled the cold for the winter. But living without a car for the first time since I was 16, I realize it’s a much better way. I just said, “No.”

Living in the heart of Winnipeg, I’m surrounded by walkable neighbourhoods on every side. Going from a golf course community in Florida — let’s call it an experiment, shall we? — with a Walk Score of 9 to Winnipeg’s Exchange District with a Walk Score of 88 quickly ended my auto addiction. And the score should actually be more like 98, but Canadian transit is not yet reflected, nor are the new Exchange retail establishments that have been opening one per month ever since I’ve lived here. It’s rich.

So I’d call this a lifestyle within sustainable urbanism — walkable, transit-served urbanism integrated with high-performance buildings and infrastructure, that balances environmental, social, and economic requirements — and it also makes extreme climates livable.

The principal barrier to greening where we live is how we live. Misguided transportation planning, home and infrastructure financing systems, and zoning practices incentivize sprawling, disconnected lifestyles, and are increasingly unaffordable, unfulfilling, and unhealthy. To reverse sprawl’s unintended consequences we should incentivize compact, diverse, transit-oriented development. The foundation of Real Green is neighborhood, district, corridor, and regional design, with high-performance infrastructure and green architecture layered upon that base. It’s cost-effective, since even $1 million invested in planning a city is less than gadget-greening a handful of buildings to which everyone drives.

So what does this mean to me personally to have kicked the habit?

My family’s average car miles per month decreased by 90%, going from a 3 car family driving 530 miles per week, to a 1 car family driving 55 miles per week. The AAA Your Driving Costs 2009 lists our combination of three cars costing $0.702/mile. Walkable, transit rich urbanism got us a 90% emissions reduction and saved us $17,206 per year. It also freed up 700 hours per year, which are entirely more fulfilling to spend in other ways than on my addiction. Oh, and all that walking has started dispensing with the weight gain that averages 10 pounds per person living in sprawl. Last Saturday’s New York Times article and CEOs for Cities study intone that my new house, with it’s above-average Walk Score will likely commanded a premium, as much as $30,000. Judging by local real estate prices, they’ve more or less pegged it.

Yearly savings tally:
– 90% less carbon emissions
– $17,206 car savings
– $30,000 house savings
– 700 hours
– 10 pounds
– Real community — priceless

Walkability isn’t about doing your duty for others. It’s about a better life for you. Or as Ken Groves put it last week, “I dwell small and live large.”

It feels great to come clean.

–Hazel Borys


  1. Shawna Dempsey says

    Dear Hazel,

    Loved the piece. It made me feel recommitted to my non-car-owning choice. It is hard to swim against the tide, ESPECIALLY in Winnipeg, where cars are considered the answer to the harsh climate and the sprawl is without physical limits. Thanks for the affirmation in the depths of winter.


  2. Love it, Hazel. Well put.
    I’ve been living that dream in the good old USA for 7 years (in DC).

  3. Aganetha Dyck says

    Congratulations on conquering your car addiction. You inspire me to rethink the footprints I leave in our great city. Aganetha.

  4. Congratulations Hazel. Keep up the good work. And of course, give us a call when you need a ride. I promise not to tell anyone.

  5. Thanks, everyone, for the good words!

    I hear you, Shawna. Sisters in arms — wait, legs. It’s true that only 6% of Winnipeggers say that walking is their primary mode of transportation. But in core neighbourhoods, it’s much higher — 30% in St. Boniface, 25% in West Broadway, see http://bit.ly/9LYtBI. You’re not as alone as you feel in the dead of winter. But you would be if you were in a suburb or exurb.

    Jeff, I agree, lots of great walkable places in the USA. I was without a car for a year or so in the town of Oberlin and loved it. Never managed to kick the habit in the very walkable Short North or German Village in Columbus — sometimes it’s a lifestyle choice even in compact, mixed use, connected, convivial places.

    Aganetha, I’d only like to follow in your footprints. Appreciating your Interspecies Communication this morning. http://bit.ly/N4sgM.

    Tim, I’m still chuckling. Yeah, you gave me a ride less than a mile last Friday night! I admit. I’m not anti-car, just anti-car-dependent. The Exchange has 5 viable modes of transportation: walk, bus, car, bike, water bus in summer / river skating in winter. Perhaps you’d say the last two are a stretch, but Roman loves them.


  6. So wish this was more practical without leaving Florida, but our history of caving to developers goes back to the turn of the century and before. I envy you in all but the weather!

  7. Ross McGowan says

    Just gave my car away to a homeless person, who traded it to a cyclist who in turn gave it to a transit rider who happens to be my daughter and has now offered me a ride home! Damn!

  8. Great post. As a fellow Winnipegger also living in a walkable community (Osborne Village) it’s great to be reminded of how blessed we are. Winnipeg is by no means perfect… what city is? But when you live in a walkable neighbourhood surrounded by amenities life feels a whole lot better.

  9. I hear you, Jo-Anne. And yet there are pockets of major reform in Florida, most dramatically with the recent adoption of Miami 21, http://www.miami21.org, which enables just the sort of urbanism I’m talking about. But also with many public and private initiatives. Look for a neighbourhood around you at these 4 maps: http://bit.ly/9Fe5II, http://bit.ly/9NJTEg, http://bit.ly/ccS4mD, and http://bit.ly/ai3Nsk.

    Ross, I’m laughing. Jeff, right on.

  10. Are you still friends with anyone from that time in your life?

  11. wanda mouzon says

    Isn’t this a wonderful thing! Free of an addition! (grin) I don’t think I even realized my condition until I allowed myself to discover how delightful life can be in a good urban neighborhood. Now I can’t imagine living anywhere else!

    Thanks for this beautiful story!

  12. Loved the article. I too choose to live without a car – my husband has one for work, but the kids and I bike/walk/transit everywhere, and I love it. We live more in the ‘burbs (Henderson Hwy and McLeod Ave), but an active busy community, almost all amenities are within walking distance. I couldn’t ask for a better location.

  13. I salute you’re going along with the new trend of carlessness. This has the folks in Detroit in a big worry. Many young people are forgoing cars all-together. Like my daughter in NY. She used to be a car person. None of her friends have cars. Some don’t even have driver licenses. Plus old people — my mother-in-law at 90 realized it would be best for all involved to give up her car.

    But I can’t help wondering, why Winnipeg which is really cold from Florida which is really warm. Confession: I’ve been in Florida over 38 years and have never lived in the cold.

  14. Until I (semi-)retired recently, I was a city politics prof at the University of Winnipeg. When I first started making the case for compact, mixed-use urban neighbourhoods, I was a voice crying in the wilderness. I’ve seen the Exchange District go from a largely abandoned wasteland to a neighbourhood that shows real promise, and seen quite a few other less spectacular, but also positive developments. It’s very satisfying to see progress, but we still have a long way to go. A good next step would be to put some serious controls on suburban development. To pursue this point further, go to http://bit.ly/VCYz4U.


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