If you’re new to the Low Carbon Luxury Series, start here.
Would you rather be somewhere else right now? Does simply reading that question make you enjoy being where you are a little bit less?
In a previous installment of this series, I wrote about finding the intrinsic value of experiences rather than ceaselessly comparing them to other possibilities. But our modern economy thrives on comparison. Deleuze and Guattari (1987) argue that the rise of money as a “general equivalent” allowed wealth and work, which once had qualitative meanings, to be tallied numerically. The more things are on the market, the greater the field of profit. If we find someone who will raise our children for less per hour than someone else is willing to pay us for our skills, we can increase our savings. Quantitative comparison means that anything could just as easily become something else and this tendency pushes our society towards meaninglessness. If we are always looking elsewhere we do not see what is right before our eyes. That is why the final tenet of low-carbon luxury is to simply be where you are.
Investors don’t want us to stay put. They want a “flexible” labour market. They want to trade one thing for another as smoothly as possible. Economic geographers (E.g. Coe, Kelly & Young, 2013) write about the ‘friction of distance’ impeding this ideal of instant exchange. They highlight the difference between absolute distance and relative distance in cost and time. Air travel reduces relative distance. Computer technologies reduce relative distance. They work to make everywhere the same place at the same time. Capital strives to conquer time and space in order to make ‘frictionless’ exchanges — but time and space are where we live.
Living means being where you are. The ‘friction of distance’ is actually the specificity in which meaning is forged. Being where you are means appreciating your neighbourhood, your city and your local environment. It means delighting in seasonality. It means never pretending that the world and the weather do not exist.
Shipping things across the world over night; building highways to rush us through a once-great city in a matter of minutes; designing franchises that can be replicated anywhere; flattening hills for residential developments; flying to the tropics in the winter — these all reduce ‘friction,’ but they also obliterate reality.
Think for a moment about the joy of a snow day — a very particular day, encapsulated in cold. Why do we invest so much money and fuel into clearing our roads as fast as possible? Why can’t we just stay home once or twice a year? Especially when so many of us dread the repetitiveness of our careers, the endless sameness that swallows up years of our life and leaves nothing but an RRSP in exchange. Working less and living more is also a climate solution, because a slower economy burns less energy. And if we measure value in terms of meaningful moments, a slower economy will also likely produce more value as well. So let’s take a snow day when nature asks us too. Make hot chocolate. Read a book. You can go to work again on Wednesday.
Insisting on travelling the same route at the same time of day in the same vehicle for an entire year is crazy. Think of all the time and effort and municipal taxes we pour into clearing snow for our cars. Indigenous people just put on snowshoes and walked on top of it.
Being where you are means delighting in the seasons instead of denying them. In general, this will also save us energy. In the summer – make a salad with local tomatoes for dinner and give your oven a rest. In the winter, bake root vegetables, knowing that your oven is doing double-duty and taking a little strain of your gas furnace. Respecting seasonality also means you will pass on the flavourless imported tomatoes that clutter up our grocery stores all winter – saving yourself for the rare joy of a local heirloom tomato. Respecting the seasonality of the harvest intensifies the pleasure of eating because waiting an entire year for certain delicacies makes them that much more glorious when they finally arrive.
Perhaps the most insidious and absurd denial of seasonality is our contemporary insistence that indoor temperatures should be 22 degrees all year round – such that many people are too hot indoors in the winter and bring sweaters to the movies in the summer. Use your furnace, use your air conditioner – but let the temperatures fluctuate with the seasons. Enjoy the coziness of sweaters in the winter. Wipe your brow with a damp cloth in the summer. This will also allow your body to actually get used to the season and make going outside less startling in both summer and winter.
Being where you are will also strengthen your connection to your neighbourhood. Walking will let you see all the little gardens and shops and unusual trees just around the corner. If you go for regular strolls, your relationships with the people in your neighbourhood will evolve from glances to nods to waves to full blown conversations and maybe even friendships. Cultivating things takes time and cultivating the place where you live is no different. If you drive off in the morning and roll into the garage each night you will have a home, but not a neighbourhood.
If you’re not in a hurry, take a moment to appreciate this dance performance by BBOY CLOUD, a businessman misses his bus – and realizes how much beauty he was rushing past.
Driving in and out of your neighbourhood for every single errand can also impact other people’s friendships. Take a look at this fascinating chart of friendship between neighbours compared to volume of vehicles. If you feel like you never have time to go visit friends – perhaps it is because they are all so far away.
Donald, A., Gerson, M. S., & Lintell, M. (1981). Livable streets. Berkely/Los Angeles/London.
BEING WHERE YOU ARE draws together many of the other tenets of low-carbon luxury. Certainly, working less and living more is a good way to give yourself time to get to know your neighbourhood. Being mindful helps you to appreciate the little things. And simply appreciating what your neighbourhood has to offer instead of comparing it to Vienna or Tokyo will help you develop your attachment – and all the interwoven layers of meaning that grow out of nurturing a sense of place.
Staycations can help you to love where you live. Last winter, my wife and I spend a few days downtown at the Royal York; we ate out and pampered ourselves and swam in their pool and forgot it was winter. And now, whenever I’m at Union Station, I see the hotel and recall that vacation fondly, those memories are nestled into downtown Toronto in a way that a tropical vacation never could be. Even a space as dull and utilitarian as the PATH now has a certain luxurious resonance that it didn’t have before.
Staycations save money and reduce our carbon footprint, but they also colour our understanding of our hometown or province. They help us to be where we are. If you discover a perfect new restaurant during your staycation – you can go back again in a couple of weeks for a Friday night excursion that carries you a million miles away.
And as more of us choose to turn inwards for inspiration, instead of always looking abroad, the more residents of our city will get a chance to shine. Think for a moment about what would happen if we spent as much energy and money supporting local sports as international leagues. Imagine, instead of the Raptors, we had ten teams from different neighbourhods competing throughout the year. Instead of supporting a couple hundred millionaires across North American – professional sports could pay a couple hundred people a generous, but not outrageous, salary in every single city. Ten times as many athletes could live the dream of going pro – and we would see these men and women in our local coffee shops and restaurants or taking their family to the park. And the cross-town rivalries would be even more delicious than national rivalries. This same increase in equity could be achieved in the arts and other fields – instead of creating global superstars, we could nourish a deep field of local heroes.
Instead of Drake’s scorching sun circling the CN tower, blotting out all the other stars, a hundred local rappers would also get their time to shine.