Monday, November 2, 2009

Engagement

Last week I wrote about how to get younger people to shift from our dominate car culture to alternative modes of transportation and I have been thinking a lot on the subject since. For the most part I feel like a lot of my people understand the connection between things like environmental change and personal consumption levels. Every day, even in cold winter weather, I see a lot of people my age out on their bicycles.

But I must step back and remember that Missoula is a college town and has a unique culture that is not easily duplicated in other communities. It seems that more and more people are making shifts in their daily behavior and these small changes aggregate into numbers that can actually matter.

But how do you get people to go from shifting personal behavior such as their mode of transportation to actually becoming actively involved in a wider movement or organization? In Missoula the people that are personally involved in advocating for alternative transportation and complete streets are not people of my age group. When I show up to a meetings or work on non-profit projects, the people sitting across the table from me are usually 20 to 30 years older than me.

Of course generation Y is well represented at any event where music and beer are present. Events such as Missoula's Bike, Walk, Bus Week and Pedalfest are important in fostering community and spreading ideas, but fall well short of building momentum for sustained change or wider engagement.

Hell, I'm right in the middle of generation Y and I have no idea of how to actually get my friends involved in advocacy work and a lot of times people's eyes glaze over when I talk to friends about some project I'm working on.

My gut tells me that the answer lies in building a vibrant community and maybe Missoula is just not big enough to support something like what I am envisioning. Strong non profits are another important part of the mix and people within those organizations that can really push to organize and do creative things are a huge asset. But how did the Obama campaign capture the energy of my generation so well? I know more than a few people that worked within the campaign at various levels as either volunteers or paid organizers. I'm not trying to compare Obama with exciting world of alternative transportation, but just using his campaign as something to contrast against.

Maybe I'm off base with my concerns, but my generation is full of people that have the energy, creative thinking, and new approach to challenges that non-profits pushing for social change can really use and if those talents go uncaptured it seems like a shame.

6 comments:

Doohickie said...

But how do you get people to go from shifting personal behavior such as their mode of transportation to actually becoming actively involved in a wider movement or organization?

I don't. I'm kind of enthusiastic about my cycling and I'll readily talk about it. I may even ask someone to ride with me. Then again, if not, that's cool.

I don't really advocate for cycling infrastructure. I like the thought of cycling being a bigger part of the traffic pattern, but I am not sure infrastructure is the answer, and besides, I get around pretty easily already, in one of the bigger cities in the country.

I guess I just content myself with the Gandhi saying: "Be the change you want to see in the world."

John in NH said...

I am right with ya, as a fellow student in environmental planning and going into graduate work in transportation planning, I know of nobody else my age doing what I am doing, or has even heard of what I am doing. Hell the largest program in NY I can find is 60 students at the U-Albany transportation planning program. U-Albany is one of the flagship schools for SUNY. I guess we each have a calling, some are helping Obama get elected, helping dems. some are focusing on recycling, some on foods, and some, like us, on biking and alternative transportation. I think that if you make ideas public(to the uni body at least) and ask for input you will get it, and it will be useful (look at TA's work in NYC with community members paired with transportation planners) Its hard to get people to make connections, and if they are on their bike, to take that extra step. I don’t have any answers, I have found little student support on my projects, but I do have lots of positive encouragement, which actually does help. We just keep pressing and if somebody sees something then they will jump on and help. It’s hard to do much else. We each have a focus and a calling, and side interests, you will find others that are similar, but they are not everywhere.

JB said...

Why can't we involve music and beer in this picture? I lived in San Francisco for 3 years and their SF Bike Coalition is an incredibly strong group that is quite politically active (and successful at it I might add).

They make it fun to get involved and realize that it is a multiple-step process. Get people out to "Tour de Fat" which is all about music and beer, then maybe you will get them to volunteer as a bike valet at the Radiohead concert that comes to town... then just maybe they will take that extra step and make a phone call to the mayor's office about the need for better bike lanes and greater cooperation from the police department.

This is similar to how I got involved and many of my friends as well. There's nothing wrong with a little beer and music and fun to break the ice.

CarFree Stupidity said...

I'm not complaining about the music and beer aspect. I just designed a flyer for a winter riding party called Icycles and Bicycles. I'm just disapointed that we here in Missoula haven't been able to turn those events into something broader.

Part of having a vibrant bicycling community are social events, but if that is where it seems to stop then something is missing.

If the same 5 or 10 people are always the ones advocating for something their message starts to get ignored because most likely people have heard it from them many times before. Bringing a broader group of people in to get involved in some way helps to strengthen any movement.

Like I said in the post, maybe my concerns are off base. Here in Missoula I only see a small portion of what is happening and I'm sure there are plenty of places around the country that have built sustained local campaigns for alternative transportation and social change alongside a vibrant community.

Daniel said...

You're right that local culture makes a difference. Charlottesville is even more of a college town (by proportion of population) than Missoula, but biking is much less common. It really doesn't have much to do with political leanings either. Cville is more left-leaning than Missoula. Climate is more amenable too (although there are some hills). There are groups here that a trying to build a culture, but it certainly takes time.

I'm personally interested in seeing how bicycle culture can spread beyond the typical base of young (mostly) 20-somethings. It's usually assumed that older people are more practical and respond only to safety improvements, efficiency, and price, but you know they are just as much influenced by their peers as anyone else. The "Tour de Fat" events are great, but I wonder what other alternatives are out there for different subcultures.

Brittany said...

During my college days in Missoula I didn't own a car and loved biking and walking everywhere. I recently moved back home to rural Montana and am really struggling with the decisions around transportation.

My responsibilities are up to 45 miles apart, and although it may be bike-able, it's just not practical with winter approaching. (I've thought about trying to ride my horse to and from because I really don't want to drive a car)

Don't give up estabilishing a vibrant bicycle culture in Missoula because I need hope that I can establish one alongside the 4X4 trucks and cattle trailers :)

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