Erik Weber at Greater Greater Washington has an interesting post on how pop culture has historically pushed transportation conventional wisdom and now is leaning towards greater sustainable mobility. Weber highlights the recent push by the Gap and Rockport of “walkable” shoes. As you can see above, the Rockport ad nicely pairs sustainability and public transit with professional attire and comfort.
While my girlfriend owns a car which I use a fair bit, I live and work in the incredibly walkable northwest quadrant of Washington, DC. I walk a lot and I also take the bus a whole lot more than I used to, though this is a relatively recent addition to my range of commuting options.
Weber also highlights the recent NY Times article on the car-free-in-Los-Angels existence of Mad Men actor Vincent Kartheiser. Kartheiser, who plays Pete Campbell on the show, had previously had a similar, extensive profile of his minimalist lifestyle in The Guardian this past April. Here’s how his lifestyle is described in that article:
“I go on the bus, I walk. A friend left his car recently at my house and I took it out one day just for 15 minutes and it was terrible. You know why? I felt like I was back in LA again. Four or five years ago, when I had a car and I had been out of the city I wouldn’t feel I was back until I got in the car, you know. But now I feel off the grid. I feel that I am not part of the culture. And because I don’t have a car I don’t really go anywhere to buy things. In fact, I have been in a slow process of selling and giving away everything I own.”
He has? Like what?
“Like, I don’t have a toilet at the moment. My house is just a wooden box. I mean I am planning to get a toilet at some point. But for now I have to go to the neighbours. I threw it all out.”
(As he says this, I’m wondering whether this is just another of the parts Kartheiser might be trying on for size, but to prove the point he later takes me back to his house, which really is an empty wooden box, a small one-room bungalow on a nondescript Hollywood street and indeed it has no lavatory.) Is that a Buddhist thing, I wonder, or an early midlife crisis thing?
“It started a couple of years ago,” he says. “It was in response to going to these Golden Globe type events and they just give you stuff. You don’t want it. You don’t use it. And then Mad Men started to become a success on a popular level and people started sending me stuff, just boxes of shit. Gifts for every holiday, clothes. One day, I looked around and thought ‘I don’t want this stuff, I didn’t ask for it’. So I started giving it to friends or charity stores, or if it is still in its box I might sell it for a hundred bucks. I liked it so I didn’t stop.”
What makes Kartheiser interesting is that he’s someone who’s highly visible in pop culture and is making a very deliberate choice to use public transportation and live a highly simplified life. If a Hollywood actor can do it, it’s hard to argue that anyone can’t do it.
Weber makes an important observation that contextualizes both the shift in big brands like Gap and Rockport and the choices of one prominent actor.
In a today’s corporate-identity driven market, the American lifestyle is all-to-often shaped by TV and movies, pop culture and megabrands. A shift in the way the movies, media and pop culture depict car-light, transit-oriented and walkable lifestyles may help enshrine the need for mass transit and non-motorized infrastructure in the people and policymakers.
I’d certainly hope so. Walkability and public transport options are things that have made me fall in love with living in Washington, DC. Urban living is most certainly not for everyone, but deliberate policy choices like better funding for mass transit infrastructure, as well as wider consumer choices like more comfortable, stylish shoe choices, combine to make urban living more enjoyable and rewarding (not to mention cheaper and more sustainable).