Friday, July 18, 2008

Becoming Car-Free with a Kid

Before our daughter was born in Summer 2006, we were already avid bike commuters and users of public transit. We chose our Somerville (Massachusetts) neighborhood because it was an easy walking distance from groceries and work for Angela, and a manageable bike ride for Dorea. When we started planning for a child we decided that we were committed to staying in an urban setting (for the time being in our 400 square foot 1 bedroom apartment) and that we would remain car-free.

There were many naysayers. I'm pretty sure our friends were taking bets on how long we'd last without a car now that we had a kid. People would kindly, but hesitantly, inquire about our living and transport situation and when we would insist that we were staying in town and weren't planning to get a car. They would exchange knowing looks with one another and say, "oh...really...," and then change the subject. But as our daughter grew, our enjoyment of and commitment to being car-free grew as well. Eventually we couldn't stand the one-bedroom apartment anymore, but all of that money we saved by not supporting a car permitted us to buy a condo, which we were careful to choose in close proximity to work and public transit. When it came time for our daughter to attend daycare 3 days a week, we chose a center an easy 10 minute walk from home. Our biggest concern in moving was that we were no longer walking distance from our favorite grocery store (the cheapest), but our neighbors (car-lite avid family bikers) offered to share their bicycle trailer and I was able to haul more groceries by bike than I ever managed previously on foot.

We've gained so many benefits from car-free family living. The most obvious is financial. We would never have been able to afford our home at this point in our lives had we also had to financially support a car. But some of the more important benefits were unexpected. By living car-free we've become very integrated into our immediate geographic area. If we had a car, we would be free to associate with friends spread all around the city and suburbs, probably selecting friends just like us. But we don’t have a car to visit far-flung friends, so we make friends and find community with the wonderful variety of people in our own neighborhood. We live in what we think is the best neighborhood in the world for kids, and we love how close we have grown to our neighbors and neighborhood in the year we have been in North Cambridge. Living this way is not without inconveniences, but by far the good outweighs the bad, and by a margin much larger than we ever could have anticipated.