Interview with Tiffany Bromfield by April Economides

Tiffany Bromfield web.jpg

Tiffany Bromfield is the CEO of the San Diego Business Improvement District Council, one of the few non-profit business improvement district (BID) councils in the nation and the only one with paid staff. The BID Council recently invested in a Bike-Friendly Business District plan, which it’s set to implement in seven districts this fall before rolling out into all 17 districts. (Note: Columnist April Economides was the consultant hired to create this plan.) A BFBD is where merchants encourage community members to bike to area shops and restaurants – and where merchants and their employees ride, too. BFBDs integrate bicycling into a district’s operations, events, and promotions. More info is here.

AE: Please explain the BID Council’s role and what you are tasked to do as its CEO.

TB: The BID Council is an association of 16 business-based BIDs and one property-based BID, formed to foster collaboration between them. The BID Council acts as an advocate for the BIDs with the local municipality, state and federal governments. Additionally, the BID Council manages programs that help all BIDs or that have a citywide importance to small business owners. Finally, we’re incubating about 19  ‘micro districts’ in the City of San Diego with funding and staff support.

AE: Some BID leaders would be content to manage all of that – I know you keep very busy! Yet, you decided to invest time and money into creating a Bike-Friendly Business District (BFBD) program. Why do you see this as important for San Diego?

TB: The BID Council invests in BID-wide programs when they can benefit all of our member non-profit associations. The BFBD was a program that we could create and share with the 17 BIDs and 19 micro districts.

AE: A BFBD program seemed an easy sell to your 17 BIDs. What do you attribute to them immediately and enthusiastically adopting this idea?

TB:  We had some early adopters that were already doing bike-friendly programs, and a large concentration of our districts are in urban, bikeable communities. For example, the El Cajon Blvd. BIA already hosted a quarterly community ride called ”Bike the Boulevard” where locals biked to five locations on a Saturday. The Adam’s Avenue Business District’s local businesses already sponsored bike valets at local events, and at one of its restaurants/bars. The BFBD is a way to put some of the puzzle pieces in to fill in around existing promotions and activities to make a full picture.

AE: The plan we created together for San Diego has about twice as many ideas as what we executed during the Long Beach pilot. What elements are you most excited about?

TB: I am most excited about adding bike valet components to all of our special events. We host around 60 different events in all the BIDs over the year, so adding this component will draw new people and encourage alternative modes of transportation to the events.

AE: A year after the program’s launch, what would you love to report that it accomplished?

TB: I would like to say that we were able to encourage all of the special events in San Diego (both BID and non-BID) to have a bike component to get people to the events they host.

AE: Any words of wisdom for other BID leaders considering launching a BFBD program?

TB: A plan is a great way to get you thinking about other ways to incorporate bikes into everything you do. As we talk to the member BIDs about the plan, we’ve come up with new ideas. We left the plan broad enough that each district could put their stamp on it.

At ‘press’ time, the San Diego BID Council was about to announce its BFBD program to the public and media. Please check back here for updates.

Interview with Veronica O. Davis, P.E. by April Economides

Economic justice, let alone environmental justice, is rarely mentioned in the bicycling scene, let alone understood, and even more rarely acted upon. So it was refreshing to hear Veronica O. Davis, P.E. speak on the Women’s Bicycling Summit panel at the League of American Bicyclists Summit in D.C. in March and talk pointedly about these issues. In addition to being a civil engineer (rare among women), a black female civil engineer (even rarer), and co-founder and co-principal of the company Nspiregreen, she’s an advocate for getting more black women in D.C. on bikes. I reached out to her to learn more about her work and, in particular, the role she sees business and economics playing in the bicycling world.
 
AE: How did you get involved in bicycling, both personally and professionally?

VOD: Personally, I fell into biking. Between the gas prices increasing, the introduction of the Capital Bikeshare program, and investing all of my savings into my business, I started biking to save money. I recently went car free as part of the “trade my car for a bike” at the inaugural Tour de Fat hosted by New Belgium Brewing Company. I was able to purchase a really nice bike as part of the winnings and I have to document living car-free for the next year at dizzyluv25.tumblr.com.
 
Professionally, I started my career at the Federal Highway Administration on the Air Quality Team. One of the programs I worked on was the Congestion Mitigation and Air Quality program, which provided funding for activities that got people out of their cars to reduce air emissions. Many of the programs funded were for pedestrian and bike improvements.
 
AE: Yes, I noticed you’ve worked for both the public and private sector. What made your decide to start your own company?

VOD: We started Nspiregreen because we wanted to work for a company that shared our core values. I wanted more control over how I spend my time. Most importantly, I wanted the freedom to be creative and innovative. Taking the leap was scary at first, but I made the right decision.

AE: What does your business do, in general and in regards to bicycling?

VOD: Nspiregreen LLC is a sustainability and environmental consulting company. We specialize in bringing the people element back into civil infrastructure projects. Three attributes that set Nspiregreen apart are: One, through the creation of our Listen, Engage, Analyze, Feedback (L.E.A.F) model, we seek to translate technical data to communities in a way that allows them to participate in a sustainable and meaningful way. Two, we integrate technical expertise with our passion for community by providing broad based strategies that are inclusive of community for the environmental and transportation sector. Three, we “Nspire” sustainable growth through our personal commitment to being good stewards of the environment and allow our walk to serve as a testimony to others who think “being green” is not attainable for them. We walk the sustainability walk through our company practices and policies. For example, we share office space with a variety of other small businesses, offer telecommuting, provide bike share as well as shared car memberships to employees, and recycle.
 
Related specifically to biking, we work at the grassroots level to promote biking as a form of sustainable and affordable transportation and linking it with other modes of transportation. We are developing two products. One is aimed at helping “newbies” become more comfortable with biking in DC. The other product will assist all cyclists with commuting to work. Since we are still in the development phase and I can’t go into too much detail, but stay tuned.

AE: You are based in D.C. What’s it like being a bike advocate in a city without statehood?

VOD: It’s challenging not having statehood. Congress is making decisions everyday that affect our lives yet we have no vote and we barely have a voice. For example, watching the Congress play politics with the transportation bill was very frustrating.
 
AE: What do you think about the bike share program in D.C.?

VOD: I LOVE the bike share program. I have been a fan, supporter, and agitator since day one. I advocated for more stations east of the Anacostia River, which is a predominately black community. I do hope that the usage in these communities will increase, as more people understand how the program works and the connectivity benefits.
 
AE: What are your main goals for the U.S. bicycling movement and what type of work are you doing in this regard?

VOD: My main goal for the bicycling movement is to increase the number of black women who cycle for transportation, recreation, health and wellness through Black Women Bike founded in 2011 to get more black women bicycling for transportation and recreation. I really hope that black women can see the economic benefits of biking as a mode of transportation. I also hope it encourages more women of all ethnicities to create biking related businesses.

Q & A with Toronto Bicycle Maven Yvonne Bambrick by April Economides

Kensington Bike Rack PhotoCredit on the photo.jpg

On a recent trip to Toronto, I had the pleasure of spending time with bicycling advocate Yvonne Bambrick. Yvonne is a bicycling celebrity around town, largely because of her role as the former (and founding) executive director of the Toronto Cyclists Union, the city’s primary bicycling advocacy organization.

In that role, she increased awareness of bicycling and the responsibilities of all to safely share the road, successfully engaged the provincial Ministry of Transportation to update the Ontario Driver’s Handbook to include bicycle and pedestrian safety, grew the union’s membership to 1,200, won a hard-fought bike lane battle on a major downtown arterial road, launched Toronto’s first mobile bicycle service station, and fielded more than 500 media interviews, among other accomplishments.

As a car-free bicycle commuter, she sees first-hand the economic benefits bicycling brings local business districts, and now is the director of two Business Improvement Areas (BIAs) where she brings her urban commuter and placemaking sensibilities to a traditionally parking-centric role.

It’s always exciting to meet fellow bicycling advocates who have also/currently work for business associations, so I sat down with her to ask her some questions:

AE: Anyone visiting your website quickly learns you are a multi-talented woman, involved in many aspects of Toronto’s bicycling and business scene. Please give us the skinny on what you’re up to these days.

YB: Well thanks, I really enjoy the various types of work that I do – they are all connected in some way. For the past year now, I’ve been working as the part-time coordinator for both the Kensington Market and Forest Hill Village BIAs. I also continue to speak and occasionally teach about the benefits and politics of cycling transportation, and work as a documentary and portrait photographer. Working so closely with this enormous variety of business owners is allowing me to gain unique insights into the needs, interests, misconceptions and concerns of multiple generations of independent merchants and entrepreneurs on a variety of subjects.

AE: It’s impressive you’re the only staff person for both BIAs – that must be a lot on your plate. What kind of work do you do for the two organizations, and is any of it bicycling related?

YB: I work on a number of different projects simultaneously – from the development of marketing materials and grant applications, to infrastructure repair to the production of events. In Kensington Market I’ve just wrapped up several months of community consultation around the frequency and type of neighborhood street closure events, and in Forest Hill Village we’re planning to begin the underground utility repairs required prior to a full streetscape redesign that will make the neighborhood more pedestrian and bicycle friendly.

I’m also connecting with city transportation staff about the addition of five much needed on-street bike corrals in Kensington Market. With so many customers and visitors arriving by bike, and limited sidewalk space to add more of Toronto’s signature post and ring bike racks, the market has struggled for years with inadequate bike parking. When combined with the sculptural bike parking at the top of the market that I project managed in 2009, we’ll have added about 60 spots once the corrals are in. I think both neighborhoods, and in particular the next generation of business owners, are beginning to better understand that bikes mean business.

AE: What additional bicycle initiatives do you want to see Toronto business districts and businesses adopt?

YB: I’d love to see a Bike Friendly Business campaign take root. The City has been holding the Bike Friendly Business Awards for the past 20 years, but we don’t yet have any type of citywide ‘bike friendly’ designation that businesses of all sizes can strive for. I’d also like to see a greater uptake on the creation of secure indoor bike parking, in particular in larger office buildings and shopping centers. I hear stories fairly often about there still being rules against bringing bicycles inside certain buildings for no apparent reason. That’s quite a deterrent from riding, in particular in areas where on-street parking is limited or non-existent. Outreach to property managers and owners could probably help resolve this issue.

AE: Toronto’s 2009 study of the popular Bloor Street business district showed pedestrians and bicyclists spend more money in the district than drivers, especially those walkers and bicyclists who live nearby. What lessons can other cities learn from Bloor Street?

YB: The results of the Bloor St. study were hugely significant, primarily because this was the first study to be undertaken in Toronto that showed very clearly that bicyclists and pedestrians are good for business. It completely refuted the widely held belief that most customers (money) arrive by car, and that car parking trumps all.

This past century has seen the automobile become so culturally ingrained as a symbol of status, wealth, freedom and sex appeal, and our cities so completely transformed in order to accommodate the swift throughput and easy movement of motor vehicles, that it is no wonder most people believe the hype. Thankfully, this is starting to change. What we saw on Bloor St., and I believe similar statistics would emerge in other comparably dense, street-level commercial districts, is that many customers arrive by various means other than the automobile.

I believe that ‘consumers’ (citizens) are also increasingly interested in supporting local small businesses – the shops down the road that you can walk or bike to, where you get to know the owner or employees, and can see that you’re supporting the local economy and contributing to the vibrancy of your community.

AE: What parting words of wisdom can you share on why bikes are good for business?

YB: The less money people spend on the purchase, maintenance, storage, fines, insurance, gas, repairs, etcetera of a motor vehicle, the more money they have to invest in the local economy!

Fun Facts About Yvonne Bambrick:

One of her favorite…

…Places in Toronto: Kensington Market & Toronto Islands

…Foods: Picnic

…Musicians: Jennifer Castle/Castlemusic

…Famous people: Strombo

…Words: Balance

…Bikes: My Batavus workhorse

…Artists: BGL

…Writers: Momentum & Dandyhorse magazine contributors

Elly Blue's Bikenomics by April Economides

Elly Blue - image courtesy of Caroline Paquette for Little Package

One of my favorite people in the bicycling advocacy world is Elly Blue, who coined the term “Bikenomics.” Her zine “Bikenomics: How bicycling will save the economy (if we let it)” is a compilation of 10 articles she wrote for Grist.org the first half of 2011, and is a delightful must-read for transportation planners and city officials – and anyone who works in the health industry, sustainability field, or who drives a car or rides a bike. In other words, everyone.

Blue, a Portland resident, co-runs PDX by Bike, a business that helps people find their way around Portland by bicycle, and the Portland Society, a business alliance for professional women who are passionate about bicycling. Her blog Taking the Lane is a blog about “bicycling, economics, feminism, and other cultural commentary.”

I had the pleasure of chatting with her recently, and here’s what we talked about:

AE: You’re always involved in interesting projects. What’s on your plate for 2012?

EB: Ouf. I'm trying to pare down and focus on just doing just a few things well. Right now that's writing and publishing work that will hopefully help keep bringing the conversation about bikes to the next level. I'm about to head on a speaking tour in the U.S. south with my partner Joe, who makes documentaries about bikes, and our friend Joshua who is a vegan chef. I can't wait! I'm also excited to put more energy into the Portland Society. This year I'd like to keep supporting our members’ professional development and also step out into the political and civic sphere.

AE: With a clear understanding of ecological economics, yet using layman’s terms to appeal to a wide audience, in your Bikenomics zine you do an excellent job of dispelling the myth of ‘free parking’ and detailing the societal costs of car crashes, sedentariness, and urban sprawl – and then contrasting these with bicycle transportation. Few political and business leaders understand the true cost of these problems, and I’m convinced if they did, more would work to improve them and see a bicycle-friendly U.S. as a smart investment. Considering the strength of the oil lobby and their related industries, do you think this is mostly a matter of ignorance and that better education can save the day?

EB: We're in an exciting cultural moment – there is a growing climate of openness to bicycling right now, just as we are with the food movement. More and more people and communities are discovering bicycle transportation and making it work for them in amazing ways and much of it seems to be economically motivated.

I'd rather talk about it in terms of inspiration instead of education. …When people work together and are inclusive and listen to each other, we've seen communities make huge changes for bikes, culturally and in infrastructure, in a relatively short period of time. For instance, I just spent the weekend in Seattle, which has become home to a booming bike movement in just the last decade. Their neighborhood greenways network, thanks to a powerhouse grassroots coalition, has gone from conception to implementation in just three years, which for transportation infrastructure is light speed. Within the next decade they'll have transformed the city, and there doesn't seem to be any controversy in store. When you build coalitions and forge ahead with determination, all this stuff really is possible.

AE: For those who have yet to read your zine, please explain what you see as the economic reasons a city should become bike-friendly.

EB: Car infrastructure is expensive and creates debt and other expenses which we can't afford, producing poverty. Bicycling, on the other hand, is a low-cost investment that pays off substantial dividends and helps everyone equally, so long as it’s done equitably, producing well-being. Also, bicycling is really fun. There you go, my entire argument.

AE: What are some economic reasons a small business would want to encourage its employees and customers to bike?

EB: It depends on the business, but employees who bike are in better mental and physical health, perform better, and have fewer sick days. Customers who bike tend to have more disposable income and likely live in the community, meaning greater loyalty. And you don't have to pay for parking for either.

AE: What are some successful examples of bike-friendly businesses you’ve seen?

EB: One of my favorite things is seeing new, bike-based businesses open up. Investing in a storefront is often risky or out of reach, but a bike-mounted coffee shop or taco cart or cookie delivery service (all real examples from Portland) requires less capital – that's one way bicycle friendly communities can create economic opportunity. Bike parking is something a lot of business owners have discovered is an effective and highly visible way to support (and benefit from) bicycling. A bike corral provides a tenfold increase in parking spots right outside your door and it's also like a billboard for the business, especially in a place where it's the only one. The standing stone brewery in Ashland is an example. Even if you don't know about their policy of giving employees bikes and financial incentives to ride to work, you immediately know that business will welcome you when you show up in dripping rain gear, and that's worth a lot.

AE: In your “Who Gets To Ride?” section, you get to the heart of why women make only 24% of bicycle trips in the U.S. You acknowledge that many women in the U.S. are low-income and that, on average, we still earn 77 cents for every man’s dollar, there’s a hiring bias against mothers and pregnant women, and we have a higher burden of unpaid labor – daily housework, errands, childrearing, and caring for elderly relatives. And then you brilliantly illustrate how this affects our transportation: “These kinds of responsibilities add up to more complicated transportation needs. Women make more trips than men, with diverse kinds of trips chained together. And twice as many trips are at the service of passengers – the school drop-off, soccer practice, and the play date wedged in there between the grocery run and commute to work.” You conclude that we can reach more bicycling equity if we reach more economic and social equity and if cities improve bike infrastructure. Given that city planners and engineers are – let’s face it – mostly middle-class white men who aren’t bike commuters, how can low-income women and mothers better get our needs met?

EB: I love this question, but there is no one answer. The first thing is to speak up and always keep your vision in mind. Maybe this means finding a cargo bike solution. Maybe it means renegotiating household duties within your family. Maybe it means working with your workplace or the local school to be more bike friendly, or working at the level of city government to fix a dangerous street crossing on your route to the store. On a more macro level, well, why don't we have an ERA? Why don't we have paternity leave in this country? Why aren't we funding education and incentivizing neighborhood schools that kids can walk to? There is plenty to be done. But the burden for doing it should not be entirely on the under served. I do think it's important for decision makers and activists to be aware of the privileges that might subconsciously inform their priorities and to actively seek out and listen to the perspectives of the people they're looking to serve.

AE: What do you think the bike movement in general needs to do better?

EB: The bike movement is used to being quite marginal, and I think it can be quite difficult for advocates and activists who have been working tirelessly for years at a seemingly impossible dream to suddenly have to shift gears and deal with success. We're a bit too used to asking for small, incremental changes, not stepping on anyone's toes. The time has come to dream big. That also means spending big, unfortunately, because we are up against some seriously wealthy, and scared, industries.

AE: What do you think is going well in the U.S. bike-wise?

EB: The movement is on fire. There is so much interest and momentum it really seems unstoppable. Besides being economical, healthy, and fun, bikes are a way for regular people to engage civically without wandering into political quagmires. It's something we can agree on across party lines. How rare is that?

April Economides is the principal of Green Octopus Consulting. She created the nation’s first bike-friendly business district program for the City of Long Beach in partnership with four business districts, as well as “Bike Saturdays” – the largest citywide discount program for bicyclists in the nation. She gives talks and develops bike-friendly business district plans throughout the U.S.

Bike-Friendly Business Districts: An Innovative Pilot Program from Long Beach, California by April Economides

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Kathleen Schaaf owner of Meow Vintage boutique with Diane Gershuny publicist for Long Beach's 4th Street Retro Row - one of the Bike-Friendly Business Districts

In October 2010, the City of Long Beach embarked on the nation’s first Bike-Friendly Business District program with grant of $72,000 from the Los Angeles County Department of Health. The city wanted to increase bicycle trips to local business districts and, hopefully, as a result, increase their number of customers. It hired my company, Green Octopus Consulting, to figure out how to do this, in partnership with the four districts written into the grant – Bixby Knolls, Cambodia Town, the East Village Arts District, and 4th Street Retro Row.

After informing the districts of the grant, educating them on the bike-business connection, and developing, implementing and promoting everything over a 17-month period with as much of their input and time as they were able to contribute – as they tried to stay afloat during a recession and the end of redevelopment agencies – we’re nearing the close of our experiment. And I did run the program as an experiment, testing as many ideas as we had time and money for, so we’d know what works and what doesn’t. Here’s what we did:

Became Educated on how bicycling helps their districts economically. Most business owners had reservations about bikes at the outset and were unaware of the economic benefits.

Started a Discount Program called Bike Saturdays, whereby customers who ride their bike receive a discount every Saturday. Currently, the program has 145 business participants, about 300 known users a month (average of two per business) and 400 Facebook and 200 Twitterfollowers. This program has also brought the businesses new customers on days other than Saturday, customers who forget to ask for the discount, and customers who walk in instead of bike. All of these situations bring the participants new customers, sales and publicity.

Offered free bike tune-ups to more than 195 bikes at 19 clinics. The ones held inside bike shops brought the shops more than 45 new customers (combined) and more than $2,000 in combined sales, because, while waiting, they’d realize they need a helmet, bike lights, or other accessory.

Installed bike racks for more than 50 businesses that didn’t realize the city provides a free bike rack to any business who requests one and that the liability associated with the racks lies with the city, not the business.

Built bike valet kits for each district and parked more than 235 bikes at 16 events. Bike valets are a welcoming touch at events and also a friendly nudge to bike, not drive.

Piloted sidewalk stencils that say “Walk Bikes”to reduce bike-pedestrian accidents and help educate bicyclists that it’s dangerous and illegal to ride on Long Beach business district sidewalks.

Held seven community rides to get new people on bikes and introduce them to the local districts. “The DENGUE FEVER community bike ride, where these rock stars were riding around in our new cargo bike with our Cambodia Town logo, was so much fun. It brought together diverse community leaders, including our councilperson, as well as others from throughout the city that had yet to discover our district. Bicycling has been part of Cambodian culture for decades, and it was neat for us to celebrate this in Long Beach, which is home to the largest Cambodian population in the U.S.” -Pasin Chanou, chair, Cambodia Town, Inc.

Created partnerships and held special events, like the bike-themed March 2010 East Village Arts District Second Saturday event, whereby four shop openings and re-openings were timed for that night, a BMX art installation of rideable Egyptian pyramids was created and ridden, and store discounts and two free bike valets were offered to bicyclists, all of which increased event attendees, business sales, and publicity for the district beyond the event. We also participated in Park(ing) Day, recruited famous bicycling advocate Mia Birk to speak at a BFBD bookshop, promoted Small Business Saturday in the BFBDs, held a bike fair, partnered with photographer Shereef Moustafa to offer free Long Beach Bicycle Portraits, and partnered with Long Beach Pedaler Society to provide new delivery service for a BFBD restaurant and complimentary pedicab rides at our events.

Promotion and publicity to educate the public via print advertising, city and business association websites, flyers, posters, postcards, social media, videos and in-person outreach. We also secured significant media coverage in local and national outlets.

…And last but not least: We started aninformal merchant bike share! Bikes and cargo bikes were purchased for each district’s merchants and employees to use in place of cars for errands and deliveries and to show off in parades. Each district chose its own bike models and colors. Here’s what a few of the stakeholders have to say:

“I'll be honest, at first I was a little scared, because I haven't ridden a bike in about a decade. …But I actually really enjoy it. Turns out riding a bike is a lot like riding a bike. …I will definitely ride it a lot more now that I have usurped my phobia. My nephew [an employee] rides it all the time, too. It has provided a convenient alternative to the three-block walk to Vons (it's a long three blocks and we are lazy) or to give up a good parking spot and drive. Also, both of us being healthy eaters, I appreciate the fact it has increased our mobility and subsequently expanded our range of lunch options, allowing me to spend more money within the community at places I wouldn't normally have time to get to.” -Clay Wood, owner, Clay on 1st

“I love the Arts District bike. It's so useful for my business and me. I can make fast and easy deliveries, take it to the bank, and use it to run business and personal errands. When business is slow, I take it for a cruise along the beach.” -Proum Ry, owner, Wa Wa Restaurant

“As the publicist for 4th Street’s ‘Retro Row,’ our vintage-inspired GT Windstream ‘Streamline’ coaster – dubbed the ‘Rebel Rider’ – is the perfect vehicle for me and my trusty Chihuahua companion Lucie to disseminate posters, postcards and flyers around town to promote our bike-friendly events. It also offers an economical and fun way to cruise the street regularly and check in with our merchants to get the scoop on what’s going on in our ‘hood!” -Diane Gershuny, publicist, 4th Street Business Association

“The BFBD bike has been extremely helpful to my office for when we need to run down the street for an errand or check out an issue. We can put our cameras or even graffiti remover in our basket and zip over to where we need to go. Plus it encourages business owners and residents to get out and ride, too. We get lots of fun looks when we ride around on the cargo bike. We experimented with grocery deliveries at Trader Joes and want to expand this program even more in 2012.” -Blair Cohn, executive director, Bixby Knolls Business Improvement Association

The Long Beach program has caught the attention of cities, merchants groups, and media outlets around the U.S., and it is our hope that BFBDs will sprout up around the nation. They’re a healthy solution for our communities and local businesses.

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April Economides, principal of Green Octopus Consulting, was hired to create and manage the BFBD program for the City of Long Beach. She gives talks and trainings on BFBDs and the economic case for bicycling to business and civic groups. She holds an MBA in Sustainable Management and is an avid bicycle commuter.

Old School Localism by April Economides

April in front of the Berlin Coffee House on 4th Street, a "Bike-Friendly" business in the Long Beach East Village "Bike-Friendly Business District

When I was 16, growing up in Long Beach, California, I’d drive – not walk – two very short blocks to pick up a gallon of milk or cuppa joe in a disposable cup. When my friends and I wanted to shop, we drove to a mall on a traffic-jammed freeway to buy clothes made in China from fluorescent-lit chain stores. I ate bagel dogs from CostCo and fried chicken from KFC.

Nowadays….my life in the LBC is a little different. My daughter and I commute everywhere via bike and foot and don’t own a car. We shop locally, eat healthfully, use reusable food and beverage containers, buy most of our clothes second-hand and have everything we need within biking distance. And it’s so much more fun.

None of this impresses my Greek grandparents. In the “old country,” living this way wasn’t a choice but a necessity. Just as they smiled at me when I tried to teach them about ‘the three R’s’ (after all, they explained, they’ve been practicing ‘reduce, reuse, recycle’ for decades), I was surprised when a colleague claimed green building was “invented” in the 1970’s. We’re so disconnected from our earth – our home – we forget the very first dwellings were as green as buildings can be: made solely out of materials from the earth and designed strategically with sun and wind in mind (fancy words for “HVAC”).

Aside from the immigrant necessity to live lightly, this is just common sense and economic, my Republican grandparents asserted. Why throw something away you can reuse? Why pay money to drive to buy toxic-sprayed produce when you can grow your own organic and better tasting fruits and veggies at home, for free? Why drive to work and pay for a gym membership when you can bike to work and save time and money and enjoy fresh air along the way? My grandpa biked eight miles to work for years and loved it. These ideas are far from new.

Indeed, what’s old is new again. Green building, bicycle commuting and farmers markets are refreshingly old. That is why those of us seeking to live lightly on our earth must approach sustainable living with humility. What can we learn from our elders? What can we learn from indigenous populations? What can the natural systems of insects, plants, and rainforests teach us about how to design cities? What were the old marketplace models that resulted in lively public squares, supported local farmers and resulted in a congenial populace? If our favorite cities we love to wax poetic about were designed before the invention of the automobile, why do we keep designing and living in cities that are the exact opposite of this?

Contemporary economists, city planners and bureaucrats are finally starting to realize that these issues form an interdependent web. Renovating our cities – like Copenhagen did in the 1970’s – so that people can get to work, school and shopping errands car-free has a tremendously positive affect on our economy, our health, and our communities. And while some of these renovations require large up-front investments (such as new light rail), many of our economic and social woes can be solved by low-tech, inexpensive solutions – such as creating informal bike sharing programs, produce exchanges and parklets. Both are needed to set our cities up for economic success.

Walking and biking is more cost efficient than driving a car – not just because of the direct expenses to car owners but because car infrastructure (including parking) is much more expensive to taxpayers than bicycle and pedestrian infrastructure. Walking and biking’s direct link to buying local helps keep wealth within the community since many small business owners live in town – in contrast to a corporation headquartered in another city. There is nothing new about the idea of walking down the street and supporting your local shop owner or bicycling your child to school. These ideas are very ‘main street’ and American as apple pie. They are fiscally conservative and efficient.

So before you hop in that SUV to Walmart with your restless kindergartener in tow, consider instead the far-reaching effects that riding a tandem to your local store will have on your child, yourself and your city. For starter’s, your kid will love it – and joyful living is the most important ingredient to any successful community. Imagine if 10 of your friends did the same. This is how the change to localism happens: slowly, intentionally, and humbly. Old school.

April Economides is the president of Green Octopus Consulting, which helps business districts realize triple bottom line success through old school ideas like bike-buy local programs and public space creation. She manages the City of Long Beach’s Bike Saturdays and Bike-Friendly Business District programs.