Car Diets - 2009. Soon coming to World Streets
The concept of a “car diet” has been around for several years now and Zipcar (good on them) is making good use of it in their marketing materials.
But they are also an important part of the wing of our New Mobility Agenda strategies and measures that involve trying to rationalize car use in our day to day lives.
We have had several runs at this, the last being back in August 2006 when we launched as part of our (ungrammatical) “Lots less cars in cities” project the idea of a World Low-Car Diet Challenge. You will find that page just below. Or live via http://tinyurl.com/ws-diet
So and against this backdrop. . . this is to invite authors, contributors to a strong update thinkpiece on Car Diets – 2009 to go on the front page of World Streets – you favorite sustainable transport daily (and the only one) – as soon as it is ready for show time.
Might that be you?
If so, please drop a line to or Skype our editor – editor@... or Skype: newmobility.
World Low-Car Diet Challenge
Exec Sum: This is a wide open public brainstorm on what we believe could be a very creative sustainability exercise with real impact. With your kind permission, we propose that we discuss this and post whatever useful responses, critical observations, announcements, projects, etc that might come out of it via the Lots Less Cars Idea Factory, for which the group mail address is LotsLessCars@yahoogroups.com, Okay, let's go.
Building blocks of a cooperative world-wide Low-Car Diet program
Understand before we dig in here that what follows is proposed as food for thought. By no means should it be interpreted as a proposal for "the best way" to do this. It's one way and when you think about it, you will come up with a better one for yourselves. And your city. Every one unique and demanding human attention.
- What is an LCD Challenge Program? A laid back invitation, support and award program which invite people to "give up their car for one month". (IF you click here you will be taken to the latest Google listing which at this point offers in addition to latest news on the subject more than 67,000 LCD entries. That's at least a start … and an indication of the media worthiness of this approach)
- Does it have to be associated with a Car Free Day? Hell no. This is just an idea for you to play with and put to work for yourselves as you wish. In fact it's not even our idea. We're just passing it on for you to figure out how if at all to put it to work for your city.
- Minimum qualifications (For Example): (a) You have to have a car, (b) you have to agree to a program of draconian reduction of its use for daily transport purposes in your city (this program of your own devising and does not necessarily entail complete abandonment of your car for extra-urban and exception purposes); but you (c) have to agree to keep the little travel log (honestly of course) for the full month (or at least that part of it during which you are trying to stick to the diet . . . and yes it is allowed to "cheat" if you absolutely must, but you have to do it in public. )
- The Diet? (For Example): Best to be tailor-made by each candidate, perhaps together with the "New Mobility Doctor' in the booth. (You shouldn't in any event go on a diet without consulting your doctor!) No reason for them to lose all that weight at one severe go. The candidate would then sign on for such dietary things as (a) getting to work by means other than own car for x days a week; (b) say walking or biking with the kids to school; (c) more neighborhood shopping instead of the car to a distant mega super market (smaller purchases, healthier eating habits); and their list goes on. For them
- Travel Log (For etc., etc.): The idea is to invite them to keep a very simple travel log over the month. which they could fill out in a few minutes each day just to trace their progress. The actual log might have one page per day, and plenty of room for comments and observations. Ideally it will be designed for easy use on the home computer, and hence easy to share.
- Local sponsors: Ideally, the LCD Challenge would be jointly sponsored by a number of local organizations, companies and groups. Any car share operators who might be present, the public transport operators, taxi companies, bike clubs, environmental groups, hospitals, public health, local lung and clean air groups, maybe some of the merchants who understand that this can work for them too, etc. And a foundation or two or just local people and families who care. Quite a list if you think about it. (And why not, the local AA, drug treatment, and anti-smoking groups who after all have long experience in this. Turns out that we have more than one monkey on our collectives backs)
- International sponsors: Certain foundations, climate and environmental groups come to mind. But, in fact, we would even like to see if we can find an auto manufacturers, or alternatively an energy company, to come in and back this program on the grounds that it provides a new and more sustainable approach to car ownership and use -- in a society which is quite unlikely to give up all their cars overnight.
- Car Free Day launch: One idea could be to do a "public launch" of the program on the occasion of your next Car Free Day - with a public announcement and support program for a high profile coordinated Low-Car Diet Challenge Program. Here are a couple of the possible working parts if you will bear with me.
- It could be good to have a visible public booth in some central area with people to talk to who can help explain the program, a few useful and perhaps a bit funny tracts explaining how the whole things works,
- We would want people to come into the booth to talk and learn about it - and that already would be a first small victory. (After all, how many people in your city have actually heard of a "Low-Car Diets?)
- What about the idea of having some way to show a number of short videos which support this idea? We already have quite a collection of videos and clips and in addition to the five minute trailer for Contested Streets and the wonderful ninety second Man in the Street interview in Groningen, you will surely be able to find one or two handfuls for people to gander at which help to explain what at the heart of it all this is all about. (Again to get there you go to http://www.newmobility.org and click them on the to menu. IF you want to talk about others, I will be pleased either to talk to you about this or via private email.)
- Also the idea of giving up your car, or thinking about it, might lend itself to comic treatment, so think about inviting some local actors or comedians to do a routine on this. Could be very funny and get attention.
- It would be important that all this be media savvy and bring in local media - maybe even as one of the partners? (The local media could even offer prizes themselves, why not?)
- One idea might be to invite the local papers, radio and TV (great possible friends and hungry for local stuff) to come to the booth on say an hourly basis. There they would see not only the exhibit and the "LCD Thermometer" which shows how many people (a) have come to talk about it and (b) actually signed up for the LCD. And then maybe some interviews with either the organizers of some of these people who have decided to give it a whirl.
- The pre-launch media build-up will of course also be critical for success.
- Prizes and for what? Let's start with the prizes. It seems to me if this whole thing is to swing, the prizes should be many, varied, interesting and directly related to what this whole thing is all about. (I guess that leaves out your Hummer). Since the whole thing is to have a high profile, it should be a no-brainer to bring in companies and others who wish to be identified with doing this wonderful thing for their city.
- For what? Well, it would seem to me that anyone who tries and sticks to it for the full month this should somehow be feted and reworded. Of course the most important reward is what they are going for themselves and their families, and for the community by being neighbors. And as leaders and role models (at an age where these are in rather short supply).
- One idea might be to invite them to put their travel logbook 'real time' in the web so as to publicly trace their problems, fears, accomplishments, occasional disagreements perhaps, attitudes for the whole thing. People should also be encouraged form the beginning to understand that this is not an easy thing, and that even if they start and later decide to throw in the towel that this is no disgrace. Not everyone who desires to stop smoking or snacking in front of the boob tube makes it the first time around. The important thing is to try. And, if they shoes to, to try in public.
- The idea of a short essay is a good one, but I wonder if as Chris Bradshaw has just pointed out that the real victory will be to have one more person or family (hey, maybe two?) move over to a car-lite life style. Perhaps that could be the last two pages of the LCD logbook.
- The Grand Grand Prize: This is for the person of the family who after their one month diet have learned enough to decide to sell their car and go instead for a package of mobility services which probably will include car sharing, public transport, cycling, walking and, who knows? maybe even hitch-hiking. Against some form of guarantee that this new life style will last for at least one year, the winners will receive (for example) free membership in the local carshare organization, free or hugely reduced public transport passes or access; a bike or two and maybe some walking or running shoes. Could be very neat. And certainly if well handled a handsome media event.
- Then, exactly one month after the Big Launch, the wonderful public report, award ceremony, and maybe a round table and debate. Invite the mayor. Invite the editor of the local paper. Invite the head of the local Chamber of Commerce or downtown business association. Make it into a bit deal. And oh yes, have fun and make your children proud of you.
As hapless 'author' of the original World Car Free Days call back in 1994 in Toledo Spain with Thursday - A Breakthrough Strategy for Reducing Car Dependence in Cities, I have all too often been disappointed in the level of, let's call it, 'social entrepreneurships' behind most of the Days -- all too many of which have turned out to be rather drab affairs, quickly done, little loved, and even more quickly forgotten. In a phrase, sorry to say, real losers. Oh dear.
Fortunately there are out there in the world a lot of bright and hard working people with ideas of their own, and as a result there have been some really wonderful Car Free Days, -- and the proof has often been that they were not quickly forgotten but actually have helped starting the transformation of the community toward a more sustainable New Mobility environment. Which of course was the whole idea in the first place.
So here we are more than a decade later and I really do think that if we push this year for Low-Car Diet challenge programs in as many places as might be ready to pick up this challenge, well that would be a wonderful step ahead.