Sunday, September 6, 2009

Place and Space

I was waiting at my bank the other day and I picked up a copy of Inland Empire Magazine. It's not the sort of reading material I usually pick up- they seem to have the habit of glorifying all of the things that I dislike about the IE, and this issue was no exception.

Flicking to the "MetroBusiness" section of the magazine, I found that the quarterly insert was entirely focused upon "regionalism"- the idea that the Inland Empire's growth in coming years must be tuned to the movement of people and goods between cities. They propose that folks do business in Rancho Cucamonga, take in dinner and a show in Riverside and go home to Temecula. (I can't recall the exact quote, nor find an online version of the article, but this is the gist of it. I'll update this if I can find the issue in a library.) Articles from MBA types expounded upon the "New Metropolis" of the Inland Empire, praising its decentralization and its freeways. It got me thinking- the automobile really distorts distance.

If you have the capability to easily move yourself near 100MPH at a whim, your definition of "local" tends to get skewed. Most of the car-driving public would probably think nothing of going out to dinner near the Tyler Mall if they reside near UCR- it's only a 15-minute drive without traffic. Similarly, people are able to live in Ontario and attend UCR, or live in Los Angeles and work there. (These are not abstract notions, but people I'm personally acquainted with.) Your sense of "local" is often "within 30 minutes travel time", and with a car, that can be quite a distance.

A transit rider would look at IE Magazine's concept of "regionalism" and laugh heartily. You could, perhaps, have a single morning meeting in Rancho, take in lunch in Riverside, and spend the rest of the day getting back to Temecula before RTA stops running, but it wouldn't be a very productive day. I have found that my concept of "local" is very different from other peoples'- for me, "local" is in the immediate surroundings of UCR. This is the area I can easily get to on my bicycle without much thought... sure, I can ride to Tyler if I really want, but it'll be an hour. I've ridden home from San Bernardino as well, but it's not something I want to do just to try out that new restaurant they're opening.

Here's the thing, though- you'd be surprised at the diversity that you can find in a much smaller "local" area. I am rarely left without dining options, and even live music is relatively easy to find. In my local area there are four grocery stores, two drug stores, at least 15 restaurants, a movie theatre, my medical clinic (on campus), and a few venues where live music can often be found (The Barn, Romano's, The Mad Platter, and in the Canyon Crest and University Village shopping centres). We're lacking a decent hardware store... but that's besides the point.

Living more "regionally" is not a goal to aspire to. It will mean more sprawl, more traffic, less wild land, and more global warming. Not to mention more stress, more traffic accidents, and more dependence upon our automobiles. Living more locally is not a punishment- if you take the time to look, I'm sure you could find plenty of opportunity for shopping, diversion and dining without driving. Our ideas of place and space need to change in the post-oil world, and this isn't a bad thing... it's just different.

By the way, happy Labour Day. Remember- RTA is on Sunday schedule, Omni and Metrolink are not running.

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