John-Robert Rodríguez (left) moved to a car-free community, Culdesac, in Tempe, Arizona in 2023.

John-Robert Rodríguez moved to Culdesac, a car-free community in Arizona, in October 2023.He’s never liked driving and believes that fewer cars can foster more community.Life at Cudesac is great, but he still has to deal with the car-dependent world outside its gates.

This as-told-to essay is based on a conversation with John-Robert Rodríguez, 24, a teacher in Tempe, Arizona, who lives in the car-free community Culdesac. Rodríguez moved to Culdesac, which has about 150 residents so far but will eventually house 1,000 residents in 760 units, in October 2023 from Pflugerville, Texas, after growing up in Florida. The conversation was edited for length and clarity.

I heard about Culdesac when it was still in development.

I went for a tour in August of 2023, and it looked just like the mockups. It looked just like how the community said it was going to look all those years ago.

I don’t drive. I have a license, but I don’t drive.

I moved in October.

When you start removing the dependency on cars, you start seeing more people. When you go to a city, the more cars that you see on the road, the fewer people you’ll see on the sidewalks. People need to be out and about in order to build the community.

Rodríguez said that he’s never been a fan of driving.

I’ll be just going home from work on the light rail and run into my literal next-door neighbor. I guess we’re on the same schedule on the light rail. We talk on the way or when walking back together, and I really enjoy that kind of casual friendship.

I feel like that was missing before — it’s like you either have those very close connections or they’re strangers to you. I like that.

I felt too car-dependent in Florida and Texas

I moved to Culdesac and also for Culdesac. That was one of the main reasons that I decided to move.

I registered with my email at some point years ago.

They sent an email in 2023 saying, “Hey, by the way, our phase one is opening up and we’re looking for residents. We saw that you were interested.”

I didn’t realize it was going so fast. The thing that I was interested in all those years ago now exists.

A few of Culdesac’s residential buildings.

I was raised in South Florida, but my parents moved to Texas when I was in college. The past five or six years my family’s been in Texas. I lived in the suburbs both in Florida and in Texas. It’s been my whole experience — and not just the suburbs of a major city, but a suburb of a suburb.

It was so far removed from the city, from community, and from anything that makes life livable.

I heard about Culdesac and I was like, “This sounds like somewhere I want to be.” I decided to pack up my life and move over there.

Something I really did not like in South Florida — though it’s more of a suburb thing than a South Florida thing — was the lack of community. I didn’t know anybody despite living in the same house for most of my life. I didn’t really know my neighbors. My classmates lived in the same city but it wasn’t like you could just casually decide, “Hey, you want to hang out and then go out somewhere?” Especially you’re a teenager and you don’t drive.

You have to plan everything, and I really didn’t like that aspect of it. There’s no way to get around.

In Texas, the choice to be car-free is not a choice. You’re not a participant in life. If you don’t drive anywhere, you can’t do anything.

Life at Culdesac is pretty idyllic so far

That’s one of the things I’ve liked about Arizona. Of course, it’s different because now I’m car-free, but I imagine growing up in Tempe or in the Phoenix area, having the light rail and having buses is an option for you. That’s not something I had in South Florida or in Texas, where you literally cannot get around if you don’t drive.

I’m in a split-level one-bedroom, so my living room and kitchen are downstairs.

My apartment is right next to the grills in the communal area. I see the grill from my room. So I’m like, “Oh, who’s down there? Let’s say hi.” So it’s nice to have that. It’s very accessible.

The way that these buildings are built encourages these interactions. Talking to people as you’re just walking by, or going to events.

We had a K-Pop night a few weeks ago. I have never seen so many people in Culdesac. I met so many people that night.

There’s intention behind the planning. There are areas you can go, versus Texas where I feel like they just throw things next to a highway and hope for the best.

You really see how ugly the landscape is, with highways and parking lots and strip malls. It’s not somewhere that you feel like you want to live or where you want to do stuff. Versus Culdesac — the intentionality of the design, the colors, the murals, the art, the space, the location.

It feels like I am more motivated to be a human versus just being in my house and shutting off the world around me.

It definitely doesn’t feel European — it’s not like I’m transported into Venice or Florence. It’s a very American take on the European style. It feels unique in that way.

My rent is $1,400, and utilities are maybe another $150 a month — but I’ve also been running the heater like a madman because I’m freezing all the time. I didn’t know Arizona got cold, so my last electric bill was a bit more than I had anticipated.

The world outside Culdesac still relies on cars

Culdesac is like an island in this car-centric place.

We’re close to Arizona State University, so it’s more walkable, and the light rail stop being so close by is nice, but there still are moments where I’m dealing with cars in ways that I wish I didn’t have to.

The light-rail station near Culdesac.

I work in South Tempe. It takes me 40 minutes to get to work. I have to cross a six-lane road, and then I have to walk through this massive parking lot because the school is in a weird place.

I wish that it was not just a Culdesac thing to emphasize walkability.

When I moved here, I was like, “I’m never going to see a car again. I’m going to be completely car-free. It’s going to be fine.” But no, you still do have to deal with that aspect of it.

Even when I was in high school, I really hated cars. I had a lot of friends who died in car accidents for dumb things like racing — which is very common in Florida because we lived next to US-1 which is a major highway, and it’s a long stretch of road right next to the Everglades. People used to race there all the time, and so I just did not ever want to drive. Because of that I was always looking for alternatives to driving.

It’s so car-centric — not just the way that people build, but the way they think. The way people navigate their lives. It’s a necessity to have a car. There’s no alternative.

I was constantly looking for either ways to get out of this country or ways that I could live without a car and have it be feasible. In a lot of places you can be mostly car-free, but you won’t have the same quality of life.

Even the phrase “car-free” implies that cars are the default, and it’s a dependency that we have.

In the context of this country, it’s a bold choice to give up a car, but honestly, I was car-free before I was “car-free.” I just don’t like cars. I don’t like driving.

People will ask, “How was it to give up your car?” I didn’t give anything up. I gained a lot by moving here. I got a lot more, and life became easier. I don’t feel a loss in any way.

Read the original article on Business Insider

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