Social Networks

Car Busters 29, Jan - Mar 2007

Dear Anna
I’m single and am only meeting a few new people. I’m don’t get invitations to many parties and don’t know enough people to have one. My long commute and driving for work are a problem. Please help.
Yours
Lonely

Dear Lonely
I sympathise. Many people feel isolated. After leaving education, people mix with their work colleagues as a natural tribe. But who else? Dating seems to be increasingly by websites and organised speed dating because of lack of time and few social events.

Transport is not a good by itself. It can help with access to possibilities to exchange goods or services. In the past we were out using local shops and facilities. If you walk, cycle or take public transport there are greater opportunities for social "glue" and community - "bumping into" folk in an unplanned, spontaneous way. Engwicht (Reclaiming our Cities and Towns 1993) talks about exchange-friendly transport - usually the sustainable, slower forms. Excessive solo driver mobility reduces probabilities of exchange. Whereas, active travel and public transport is sociable. In Germany a service was marketed as the FLIRT bus - advertised as somewhere to "eye up" talent. I’ve attended the wedding of a couple who met on a coach. Liverpool’s bus magazine has a dating page.

Chance meetings plus regular interactions with locals, e.g. serving in small shops, weave the fabric of community. Start using local family businesses and facilities when possible and use your own power to get there. Living nearby at a human scale raises civic belonging. Join local groups - e.g. evening classes. When I separated I began salsa dancing in order to date. It worked and I got fitter. Taking up active travel or a movement hobby cuts the requirement for fitness at a gym.

Cars and commuting eat leisure time. Sloman (Car Sick 2006) reckons UK drivers spend three and a half of every 16 waking hours on their car by the time they‘ve paid for it, driven it and done car care. Putnam’s US research (Bowling Alone 2000) found that each additional ten minutes in daily commuting cuts involvement in community affairs by 10% - fewer public meetings, church services, volunteering etc. Time diary studies suggest that there is a similarly strong negative effect of commuting time on informal social interaction. Plus increased commuting time among the residents of a community cuts levels of civic involvement even among non-commuters!

Solutions could include some home working or flexible hours e.g. compressed working where extra hours are done for full days off. Is going part time affordable/possible? Could you work closer to home or move closer to work?

Research by Appleyard (Liveable Streets 1981) proved that residents of heavy traffic areas know fewer neighbours than in light traffic streets. In roads with no or few slow car movements people enjoy the street scene. They chat. It is quieter and not so dangerous or polluted. Children can more safely play out. Perhaps move to a quiet street (ideally a Home Zone). Then you’ll know and regularly see and talk to neighbours.

If you could car share regularly you’d have company. Search for web sites eg liftshare.com in the UK or you could put up a sign at work asking if colleagues live nearby or en route.

If your aim is to mingle, when taking leisure trips, explore from your door and use nearby leisure facilities such as parks or scenic places.

If you don’t know sufficient people to host a celebration at home, but want to party then consider an open invitation street event. This shares your street / car park / back lane as a living room. Streets Alive are experts - www.streetsalive.net www.streetparty.org.uk or Living Streets www.livingstreets.org.uk

Women are genereally the more sociable gender with more friends/acquaintances. Traditionally women lived in the ‘village’ and relied on each other for help with childcare, whilst men ‘hunted’ in pairs or small groups. If women are generally better at forming friendships, integrating and introducing then a policy is to meet more females even if you want a relationship with a man.

As to the business mileage, does your employer have a travel plan? Could some business be done more efficiently by web, phone, email, text, letter, delivery firms, video or teleconference? Could you wait and link trips together so that overall mileage is less? Study maps to avoid congested routes or times of day and reduce overall time spent in-car. Maybe a web site or better site with e-commerce could make some trips unneccessary?

Good luck at cutting your car use and expanding your social networks. You can save money, be healthy, be green and more popular!

Anna Semlyen is the author of Cutting Your Car Use www.cuttingyourcaruse.co.uk. We are actively looking for publishers and authors in other countries (except North America). Email john@greenbooks.co.uk

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