Just as there is growing interest in slow cooking with meals made from scratch, is there a return to thinking about doing other things in a more 20th century and long hand way?
Gayle Macdonald in the Globe and Mail talks about the “convenience-driven quandary” and asks: “What if we become so accustomed to computers and other AI-driven technologies doing everything for us that we forget the joy of doing things slowly, meticulously and with our own two hands?”
Take a look at the data. Online purchases have increased to 2.9 trillion dollars in 2018, from 2.4 trillion in 2017. And Canadians, who have been late to the online purchasing party have now doubled their expenditures online from sales reported in 2016 to a a cool 39 Billion dollars in United States funds.
That sum is more than what the current American president was going to spend on the southern border wall (that clocked in at 25 Billion dollars). And here’s a story of what 25 Billion dollars will buy.
Something else happens when goods and services are ordered online and delivered to your door. That is the isolating experience when you don’t have to walk or bike or even go to a store, or have any interactions with people on the street or in shops.
As Macdonald observes ” loneliness – a close cousin of isolation – seems to be on the rise, with the U.S. Surgeon-General recently warning it’s an “epidemic” in United States and Britain appointing its first “minister of loneliness.”
While online shopping speaks to comfort and convenience, anthropologist Grant McCracken is wary of the ease of it, stating: “The industrial revolution declared war on space and time … and right through the second half of the 20th century, this war had no skeptics. Convenience was king. But in the last few decades we have seen a counter revolution. We saw the arrival of slow food, meditation, mindfulness, artisanal economies and a more measured approach to life by many people. All of which is better for humans and better for the planet.”
Encouraging “artisanal” enterprises also means developing great walking environments and safely separated bike lanes so that people can access shops and services at a slower pace. That slower pace also demands a level of detail in the environment, making streets and sidewalks clean, appealing, with benches, public washrooms, good wayfinding and places to spend time.
It is at the municipal level that good amenities are needed to encourage citizens to explore on foot and on bike. There is a lot to be learned from Europeans that use public space longer than North Americans.
While a park “stay” in Europe is registered as twenty-five minutes, that same “stay” in a North American park is only ten minutes. Why? Is it the lack of amenity or just that using public spaces as outdoor dens is not culturally embraced? We need to create public spaces to walk and bike to and to sit in, making those experiences as approachable and accessible as online shopping, but a lot more stimulating and fun.
Part of a return to mindfulness and sustainability is reinforcing a community’s connection at the most basic level~the sidewalk and street. We need to demand the best attention to detail at this level to make the public realm and non-motorized use of city streets effortlessly accessible for everyone.