ChangeCurrent AffairsReflectionJuly 10, 20140Why Not?

The joy of having your assumptions called into question...

I enjoy being in sit­u­a­tions that defy com­mon wis­dom.  Recent­ly my hus­band and I were vaca­tion­ing in Italy, where we spent one day in Venice.  We trav­eled there by train, and sim­ply walked off the train and start­ed wan­der­ing around (for­tu­nate­ly, the places most peo­ple want to go are pret­ty well sign-post­ed, or you’d be irre­triev­ably lost after about five minutes.)

Venice1At one point a sweet young Dutch woman asked us to take her pic­ture, and then we asked her to return the favor.  It was­n’t until we were stand­ing there, not mov­ing, that I real­ized how qui­et the city was.  I said as much to my hus­band, and he respond­ed, “no cars.”

Of course!  How strange to be in an urban area com­plete­ly devoid of traf­fic sounds and smells. The only motor­ized vehi­cles in Venice are the water taxis, which are pret­ty quiet.

Once we’d been remind­ed of this auto-less sit­u­a­tion, we noticed all kinds of inter­est­ing adap­ta­tions: a cool lit­tle machine shaped kind of like the bot­tom of an army tank that some guys were using to take a refrig­er­a­tor up a set of stairs; a dol­ly with a sec­ond small­er set of wheels to trans­port con­tain­ers not only through the streets but up one side of the stepped bridges and down the other.

The expe­ri­ence imme­di­ate­ly made me think about how we might do things dif­fer­ent­ly in oth­er cities to reduce or elim­i­nate car traf­fic. I noticed how just one exam­ple of a non-car-based urban area shift­ed my think­ing from “We could­n’t pos­si­bly do with­out cars” to “Why not?”

Now, don’t mis­un­der­stand me — I’m sure there are thou­sands of peo­ple infi­nite­ly more equipped to think about this ques­tion than I, who have been wrestling with it for many years.  I’m not real­ly talk­ing about how to cre­ate car-free cities; I’m talk­ing about how to chal­lenge your assump­tions.  And this day in Venice remind­ed me that when I encounter some­thing that push­es against what I believe is pos­si­ble (it could be any­thing: a con­ser­v­a­tive Repub­li­can who’s con­cerned about social jus­tice; a sim­ple approach to income tax­es that will actu­al­ly work; a way to stay in shape that takes 15 min­utes a day), it has — if I’m open to it — a won­der­ful effect of mak­ing me ques­tion my set-in-stone assump­tions. And that’s always a good thing.

And to have my mind opened up in addi­tion to sim­ply being in Venice: priceless.

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