I am nearly 57 yrs. and have only lived 9 years in a household with a car in Canada. I wrote here, where the first 14 yrs. of my life, my family in Ontario, didn’t have a car. We were very poor. My father was a restaurant cook and there were 6 children.
Significant Effort, Patience by Parent
Poverty in Canada, especially if you live in a city with shops, services and public amenities, doesn’t have to be a determinant for lousy health. But to turn that poverty ship around, requires parent(s) to be committed long-term, to living choices in neighbourhoods that encourage safe walking, play as well as creative ways to feed 6 children on a healthy diet. It helps to be committed without lecturing kids much. After awhile, kids just accept it as a norm –even if we didn’t like it.
Car-Free: Childhood Shame and Adult Realities of Poverty
Yes, I felt niggling shame of poverty and having immigrant parents. I felt self-conscious when car drivers whipped by us as pedestrians, as I (or younger siblings) was helping my mother carry groceries home or pull the grocery buggy. I wanted to shrink into the sidewalk pavement, walking homeward in downtown Waterloo, Ontario.
But home was only 15 min. walk away from shops, services and major transit stops. For their whole married life, each home, my parents rented or bought, they made sure, it was always less than a 15 min. walk from a transit or subway stop. Mom did not drive. Dad worked from late afternoon into late night shift over 35 km. away from home. So just forget about schlepping all their kids around by car all the time.
I’ve always believed there is a time in your life, for the type of neighbourhood and housing that you choose to live in to meet different needs at various life stages. But for myself, since I don’t drive, I must choose home close to transit, some services and even nicer, close to a bike route.
In my adult years, I quickly shed the lingering shame that being car-free was a lesser, poorer life. I stayed healthy and even became even fitter, after adopting cycling for work, shopping, fitness and some vacation trips.
Active Transportation Habits Now: Preparing for Future
It’s intriguing to me, many people who live car-dependent lives, assume someone will look after them for transportation and other needs when they become frailer. They may assume their adult children will always live in the same city, will want to always want to look after aging parents, or somehow friends will magically be always around to help.
I’m not waiting around to test those future assumptions. I’m part of the growing demographic in North America and some European countries, where I don’t have children. My closest friends are scattered across Canada because I’ve lived and worked in Ontario, British Columbia and Alberta.
Not My Genes: Two Pillars- Active Transportation and Healthy Diet for Life
It’s easier for me now while I’m still healthy, to continue my life within close reach of shops, services, work — a lifestyle of active transportation and 60% traditional Chinese healthy cooking. Money normally spent on ownership and use of a car, has been redirected to other uses. I’ve calculated saving and redirecting over $300,000 over the past 33 years to several bikes (still cheaper than 1 car), etc. Local use of transit and short taxi rides several times per year, still is a money-saver. I just have to plan abit better, than a car driver jumping into their car. This lifestyle can reduce a consumerist lifestyle. There’s no point buying unnecessary goods when I have to climb a hill with loaded panniers from the store.
Gift, Legacy of Good Health
Please don’t tell me that I am healthy and slim because it’s my genes. I wager my good health and fitness are only 15% family genes. The rest are pillars of lifelong active transportation from childhood to now, as well the healthy cooking legacy from my mother. I still prepare some of her dishes from my heart and head –a healthy comfort I can’t let go.
So give the gift of long term health by walking, cycling and eating your talk and offer no matter how poor you may be, to your loved ones, ways to do it. It’s an enormous legacy any parent or relative could give.
Jean is a frequent commenter on the blog and has guest posted for us before. You can see more of her posts on her own blog, Cycle, Write, Blog.