Life in Atlanta Without a Car

by FCS on

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Life without a car! That was my goal when I moved here 20 years ago. Countless people told me I was making a mistake; I’d need a car in Atlanta. But I didn’t listen until I actually moved here. My northern, urban mindset wasn’t a match for our wonderful southern city, which was built for the automobile. I lasted all but 3 months without a car before my new found job required me to have one.

Since then - I’ve found myself mostly as a frustrated urbanist struggling to live out my ideals. A few weeks ago, I decided to do something about it - I was going to go car free. A few things helped propel me:

1) #MoreMarta has improved bus service in our community.

2) The Southside Atlanta Beltline is useable (although not fully open to the public yet).

3) There are increasingly more options for me to enjoy nearby within walking distance.

4) I have an incredibly supportive family.

5) Climate change is real and our dependance on the automobile is a huge contributor to this. If I care about my kids future, I need to care about this.

Spending the past 2 weeks on the bus, train, streetcar, my feet, bikes/scooters around the city has been life-giving and eye-opening. Running into neighbors on the bus, having spur-of-the-moment conversations on the sidewalk, and engaging the city in a whole new way has confirmed why I was wanting to partake in this experiment. My days have been full, not of waiting for the bus, but of connecting with people and places near me that I have been missing by sitting in my car.

The timing of this experiment is tied to my kids. They’re about to become teenagers. I want them to be able to get around this city without me driving them places. Thinking of them during this experiment has opened my eyes the most. Standing on Jonesboro road and envisioning my kids having to wait at a bus stop that only has 2 feet between you and a 50mph tractor-trailer is frightening. Very few places in this city that are truly safe for pedestrians.  Even in downtown Atlanta cars have rule of the landscape. This is part of the reason why the Atlanta Beltline is so popular - it’s one of the only spaces in Atlanta that you can truly be free as a pedestrian without the fear of a car hitting you.

What does this mean for FCS & Historic South Atlanta? First, I believe strongly that good city design and urban planning are important economic development tools. Multiple studies show that consumers spend more money in environments where they are free of the car. This has been my experience in the last 2 weeks. I will stop into lunch spots, bodegas, coffee shops, or other stores while traveling on foot that I would never stop at in a car.

Secondly, our own neighborhood stores - Carver Market and Community Grounds - benefit greatly from car-free travel. Over half of our customers arrive at the store without an automobile (this is a big part of the reason we put our front door facing the sidewalk, not the parking lot). Understanding their experience and making it better serves our customers.

Finally, connecting our neighborhood to the rest of the city is vital for our neighborhood. To have a robust transportation network that does not rely on the car can be freeing economically for many of us. We should be pushing our city towards providing more infrastructure for all people - not just car drivers. In our context, that means making sure that the city has Historic South Atlanta on it’s radar for new and future transportation projects.

I still have 2 weeks left of my experiment - so if you want to follow my musings on Instagram or Twitter - follow the hashtag #nocaratl. I invite you to also join the hashtag by posting photos of you or your family living life without a car. My hope is that after two weeks, this won’t just be an experiment for me, but rather a new life reality.

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Monetizing Ministry

by Bob Lupton on

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“People do not value what they receive for free,” I’ve heard people say.

Really? I know it’s conventional wisdom, but is it really true? FCS got out of the give-away business years ago, but I’m not sure this was the reason, or at least the primary reason. We became concerned about the unexpected consequences that our one-way giving was producing – loss of dignity, unhealthy dependency, and erosion of work ethic. These effects were certainly reason enough to terminate our free handouts. But the most troubling issue was that our early methods of sharing hindered the development of trusting relationships. It was not so much that recipients didn’t value our freebies; they expressed appreciation and kept coming back for more. The deeper problem was that it kept us from forming authentic peer relationships. One-way giving undermined community.

Need-based relationships generally do not end well. Control issues arise. The one in control of the resources ends up in control of the relationship. The Golden Rule takes on a different meaning: he that has the gold makes the rules. When power is retained by the dispensers of charity, class distinctions are created and community is compromised.

“Parity is the higher form of charity,” another says.

Parity: on a par with, equivalence, in the game, peers. It happens when we need each other. Like the relationship between merchant and customer. The merchant needs sales; the customer needs products. They meet at the bargaining table, each bringing something of value. When the deal is done well, they both depart with their needs met and their dignity intact.

In the for-profit world, such exchange is fairly straightforward. Both participants must gain something of value or the business doesn’t last long. It’s different with non-profits. A charity can survive, even prosper, giving away goods and services so long as it collects enough tax-deductible donations to cover operating costs. Therein lies the problem. Nonprofits need donors more than they need paying customers. The people they serve provide the stories that motivate donors to give. Charities tend to make money off the poor rather than with the poor. Thus, parity seldom develops.

But interesting changes happen when recipients of charity become customers. I saw it happen in a homeless shelter. The director decided to take the risk of charging a small fee for their soup kitchen lunches. They had always been free so some resistance was expected. Some of the volunteers objected; they didn’t want to give up the good feeling of providing “unconditional love.” A few of the recipients protested and stopped coming. But the meal was hot and filling so most agreed to the modest charge. Those with no cash could pay with in-kind labor (serving food, washing dishes, mopping the floors, and such).

It didn’t take long before these “paying customers” began to voice dissatisfaction when meals were bland and boring. They began to request more variety in the menu and higher quality preparation. This happens when people become paying customers. A couple men from the lunch crowd who claimed to have culinary experience offered to prepare one of the mid-day meals (which volunteers from churches had always provided). The paying patrons were delighted with the results. By popular demand, these resident “chefs” were invited to take over menu planning and meal preparation. The lunch crowd grew. As did the demand. Over time this “free soup kitchen” blossomed into a successful catering business that served the downtown business community as well as hundreds of paying customers from the street, happy to get a quality meal for a bargain price. Parity had overtaken charity, to the delight of a wider circle of people.

This is why FCS replaced our free clothes closet with a thrift store. And our food pantry with a grocery store. And free lunches with a neighborhood coffee shop. If we truly believe that community is fundamental to human flourishing (shalom), then we will avoid practices that undermine community. We will create systems of mutual exchange that produce dignity and authentic lasting relationships.

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The Women of FCS

by FCS on

Tomorrow is National Women’s day! To celebrate, we wanted to take some time to acknowledge all of the amazing women who make FCS effective. Some of these faces you’ll recognize, but others work behind the scenes. We couldn’t establishing a flourishing South Atlanta without them!

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