“If you don’t like what is being said, then change the conversation”

One of my favorite T.V shows over the past couple of years has been Mad Men, a show whose intricate plot unfolds while following a set of characters working for an advertising agency in Manhattan. In one of the earlier seasons, the main protagonist Don Draper offers a bit of advice to a client saying, “If you don’t like what is being said, then change the conversation.” I like to think that one of the goals of sustainability is to change the questions that people are asking, to change the conversation. Instead of where do I shop, where is my food coming from? Instead of where I can I throw this away, can this be composted or recycled? Instead of where can I park, how can I get there?

Photo via Post & Courier
Photo via Post & Courier

That last conversation is something that I am quite passionate about. As a cyclist, I am in favor of promoting not only cycling, but also other forms of public transportation. With the population in the Charleston area set to grow significantly over the next 25 years, dealing with how we are going to transport ourselves from one place to the other is going to be, if it isn’t already, a serious issue. And for a region that’s already cramped for space, adding more parking spaces and highway lanes isn’t the answer. Last night Gabe Klein, the former Director of Transportation Systems in Chicago and Washington D.C., gave his follow up presentation on his findings and suggestions for ways that Charleston can begin to address its growing transportation needs for the near, immediate, and distant future. His suggestions ranged in scope from bringing back sections of the old Charleston streetcar network (which used to be fairly extensive) to upgrading the city’s parking meters and raising the price of parking to increase revenues for other transportation initiatives.

In regards to my personal favorite mode of transit, biking, Klein mentioned that Charleston is in the “awkward adolescent stage” when it comes to commuting by bike, and I would definitely have to agree.  There are enough cycling commuters to be noticed, but not enough of a mainstream cycling culture for cyclist to begin policing themselves to start following the rules of the road. Klein spoke of tensions that exist between different commuters and those who commute by different modes, and in Charleston, there is definitely a tension between drivers and cyclists. But these tensions are often artificial and are indicators of successful changes in transportation mode shares. A recent local example is the new bike parking available on King Street.

Hopefully many of Klein’s recommendations will come to pass. I realize there are barriers to accomplishing these goals, not the least of which is funding. Regardless, the fact that he was doing work in Charleston means that we’re beginning to realize that we don’t like what’s being said, and that we’re changing the conversation.

-Aaron Holly, Graduate Assistant

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